Heat or eat: The issues facing many retired workers

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In issue 154, The Socialist exposed one of the horrors facing older people, aged care. But aged care is only one of the minefields that we have to negotiate in our later years.

The article mentioned BUPA, which is the biggest profiteer in the sector, but other agencies have conditions that are just as bad. The Catholic church probably houses over 2000 older people in New South Wales alone.

They say their homes are “not-for-profit” but their operations and the services they provide are governed by a business plan that works on a for-profit model. Sometimes they do provide good care packages, but at a price. $1000 per week would not be unusual, a cost well outside the budget of most ordinary people.

Many aged care homes are still run by local councils. Their budgets are also determined by a business plan. Regular visitors to these homes will testify that council-run services are some of the worst, even worse than BUPA in many instances.

Under capitalism, not all baby boomers are well off. Many are treated as cash cows. Businesses assume that we all have a stash of cash invested in superannuation or property, and they want to milk us dry. But many elderly people live in poverty.

For example, the pension for a single retiree is a mere $467 per week. This forces many of us to stay in work in order to top up our income. This is usually at very low wages. The bosses know that we need the cash!

Other retirees are faced with the grim decision of whether or not to skip a meal, or turn off the heater. It’s either “heat or eat”. This is the reality for lots of people I know including home owners and residents in retirement villages.

Retirement villages are a whole other scam we have to navigate. They have been heralded as a good option. Some people own a property in the village while others rent from a company or body corporate. Those of us that rent have very few rights.

One issue is it’s near impossible to oppose increases in service fees. In 2017 one village on the outskirts of Melbourne increased fees by 114% despite total resident opposition. The residents were unable to take their case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal as a normal renter would.

The only option available was to pursue a civil action at the Magistrates Court. But this is far too expensive for most of us. The laws are clearly stacked in favour of the companies, just as they are in the workplace.

Lots of people I know don’t even have the luxury of being exploited by dodgy bosses who run retirement homes. I myself know of two men in their 80s who can’t find a place to rent and have been couch surfing for several years. Homelessness is a real issue facing the elderly with older women bearing the brunt.

To top things off we constantly see reports in the media that refer to older people as a burden. The stigma this creates gives confidence to the profiteers and encourages them to jack up rents, cut services and reduce staff numbers in aged care.

It helps to propagate the myth that only capitalist policies can solve the “problems” of an ageing population.

I was a socialist before I got old but my experiences in the last few years have only strengthened my convictions. We don’t need a system that exploits older people and preys on their vulnerabilities.

We need to ensure that older people are rewarded for their many years of work by providing them with a good standard of living. We need to be given opportunities to contribute in our communities, rather than being forgotten about.

We need decent and affordable housing, healthcare and transport. And we need to be given the opportunity to decide how and where we live. For some that will mean staying at home, while others will choose to go to retirement villages or into aged care facilities.

But these facilities have to be democratically run on a not-for-profit basis with the input of the residents themselves.

The ageing question has to be addressed but we can’t leave it up to the profiteers. We need socialist solutions that put people’s needs first.

By Robert Frost