For at least one of the participants, affordability was said to be the "biggest issue" (Participant 15, male, 63 years); most who participated in this research appear to be content with the lifestyle they've created for themselves . This is despite them being aware that they must live within their means, particularly those relying on the pension. Despite this confidence in managing their finances, one feared the transition from a double to a single pension.
"As the lady just recently said, ‘Pensioners can live like millionaires;’ she is wrong. If we can’t afford something we don’t get it…[but] we do pretty well, we live well, we don’t begrudge ourselves anything and we eat well." (Participant 26, male, 75 years)
"It doesn't take much to keep oldies - I mean, we have still got overhead costs, which are static costs, like electricity, rates, all those kind of things. But we don't take a lot to live on, these days." (Participant 41, female, 72 years)
"I just think we’re bloody lucky to get the pension…What worries me is how would the one left cope if [the other] left…You know the electricity is going up, our water rates have gone up enormously. Our ordinary rates, I suppose they will too...I just think 'Well, I'll worry about that when I have to'. We get by…Barry still has a beer and I still do bits and pieces." (Participant 27, female, 68 years)
"I believed through my life, if you want something, you wait until you can afford it. Don't put it on hire-purchase. You can manage. I've got all the things I want in comfort now. I haven't got the flashiest home in the world, but I own every bloody thing that's in there." (Participant 14, male, 84 years)
"If you don't drink and you don't smoke and you don't gamble, the pension is very generous" (Participant 46, male, 75 years)
While retirement has affected daily living for some, including a reduction in outings and recreational activities, for others little has changed:
"Yes, but we just don't eat out because - no, I have never been able to say I can afford it because I didn't work full-time anyway because of my health. I was only working three and a half days a week." (Participant 19, female, 65 years)
"Money has always been a problem for me because I am a single mum and only - I mean, I did cleaning, that was my job and that was not very good pay. Yeah, I just had to simplify my life and live within my means. Also, it's very handy working in a second-hand shop because I get all my clothes from there. I used to have a car but I got rid of the car because I couldn't afford it and now I love it. I love not having the responsibility.” (Participant 16, female, 57 years)
In terms of housing affordability, it is more likely that those who own their own home are happy with their current dwelling and have no desire to move compared to those who rent.
"So to go into a retirement village, unless we can get [a] rental, we can't [afford it], and rental virtually is nil.” (Participant 20, male, 80 years)
Despite the fact that the majority of participants appeared to be content with the affordability of their communities, their actions did not always support this assessment. One participant perceived her inner-city life to be very affordable, stating that all she needed was available within her community. She noted however, that the local butcher was dearer than other retailers. The tracking data indicates that she in fact travels far beyond her immediate community in order to access cheaper or wholesale outlets (including a budget supermarket and wholesale butcher). She explained that she chose these retailers because they were cheaper and she was already in the area.
"Yeah, it's all affordable. Yeah, I don't know - people say "inner city living is dearer", but it's not really. You take into account all you have got and what you don't need to have ...We have got everything there.” (Participant 3, female, 63 years)
"I don't really support [the local butcher because they’re] dearer.” (Participant 3, female, 63 years)
Map: Services accessed by Participant 3. Click on image to enlarge.
Overall, the eight case studies show that much needs to be done across all types of communities to improve liveability. Mobility, accessibility and affordability are of particular concern for all communities. On a positive note, regardless of whether an individual lives in an urban, regional or rural community, older Australians are generally well supported by their neighbours, family, friends and/or community organisations.
While the urban localities offered an array of options to improve mobility, participants across all areas relied heavily on driving. The vast majority of participants generally felt safe within their community, with rural residents being the least concerned about security. Many of this group were wary of walking at night alone however, with a few being fearful of neighbourhood dogs.
Accessibility to specialised healthcare remains an ongoing issue for rural communities. Some participants reported choosing not to access specialist healthcare in their local community, because of the high turnover of visiting practitioners. They opted instead to undertake a long commute to either Toowoomba or Brisbane as this allows for an ongoing doctor/patient relationship. In general, it seems that urban localities provide greater accessibility to services while rural localities offer more affordable living.
" Anybody could go to live in a small town and it would probably be cheaper but the fact is you have got to be more remote from the things you want. We are not going to be young forever.” (Participant 9, male, 77 years)
Overall, older Australians want the control and independence to choose for themselves how engaged they are with their community. What is most important is to provide a wealth of opportunities that enable them to maximise their participation, in line with their personal preferences.