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Australia’s oldest charity has a long-term campaign to tackle ageism in its campaigning sights

Tackling ageism continues a proud campaigning tradition!

The Benevolent Society is a well-known provider of a range of services to children, families, seniors and people with disability. But that’s not the whole story. 

Another major part of what we have always done is campaigning and advocacy for important causes. As Australia’s oldest charity, we’ve been campaigning for a just society for all Australians for over 200 years. Today, our Strategic Engagement, Research and Advocacy group continues this important role. In September 2017 we launched the findings from the research project we undertook to tackle the issue of ageism. 

Cracking the ageism nut

The Benevolent Society recognises that cracking the ageism nut is no easy target. It will require clever, strategic thinking, a broad supporter base and a range of angles of attack - from politicians, bureaucrats, businesses, families, communities and individuals. But it’s also going to take time and commitment. So at this stage we have committed to at least ten years.

First up, we carried out research with two objectives in mind: first, to better understand the key ‘drivers’ of ageism - why we have such strong negative attitudes to and beliefs about older people and ageing. Understanding the key drivers will give us the best insights into the ‘levers’ we need to pull to change some of that thinking.

The second objective was to identify some of the common factors in major advocacy campaigns that have succeeded in changing attitudes and behaviours. 

We published the results of the research - which included a literature review and both qualitative and quantitative research with consumers - to coincide with UN International Day of Older Persons on 1 October 2017. To announce the findings, Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson, and social commentator, Jane Caro, stood alongside the CEO of The Benevolent Society, Jo Toohey.

You can look at the key findings and download a copy of the report at EveryAGE Counts website; but to summarise, the research tells us that many of the negative beliefs and assumptions we have about ageing and older people are simply not true. And they are damaging our ability to live well and flourish as we age. 

People are unaware of the positive aspects of older people’s lives and tend to overestimate the negative aspects, such as poor health, financial concerns and dependency. For example, a common misconception is that the majority of people in the 70s, 80s and 90s live in aged care facilities, when in fact they continue to live independently at home, wherever home is.

On the upside, we learned that increased exposure and opportunities for connections with a mix of people from older age groups is associated with less ageist views – a strong argument for more intergenerational activity across workplaces, families and communities. We also learned that the majority of people do not hold negative views too strongly and that most people think ageism needs to be addressed. This augurs well for the potential to make a positive change.


Overall, we have gained a pretty clear message from the research: if we can harness our learnings, skills and knowledge about changing beliefs and behaviours – at all levels (the individual, the community, government and business policies), then we have a reasonable chance of redressing myths and misconceptions, redefining growing older, and reaping the benefits of all Australians living longer, healthier lives. 

That’s the challenge of the EveryAGE Counts campaign we will be launching in 2018 off the back of our research. If you want to support us and get updates as we progress, please sign up at www.everyagecounts.org.au. Meanwhile, watch this space.

If you have any other questions, give us a call, we will make sure that we will do our best to answer your questions. You can phone us on 1800 236 726 or check out our website