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Issue #1508      6 July 2011

Aged care – funding cuts ahead of “reform”

The predictions were right – federal funding for aged care is to increase by just 1.9 percent this year. That’s half the rate of inflation of 3.9 percent and way below price rises for essentials like fresh vegetables, which jumped 16 percent last quarter. Aged Care Association Australia CEO Rod Young said last week that the increase represented $2.20 a day for each resident or “equivalent to the cost of one banana”. Unfortunately, residents probably won’t see an extra banana or anything else. The below inflation “increase” is actually a cut to a service sector already in deep trouble.

Privatisation and deregulation have taken a heavy toll on aged care in Australia. The administrative eye is fixed on the bottom line and cost cutting and staffing cutbacks are generally the order of the day. Some time back, The Guardian carried a piece by Rebecca, who had been working in aged care for ten years in a range of low-care facilities.

“It is a very rushed kind of system where there’s usually only one or two carers for 20 or so people and you’ve got to attend to all their different dietary needs and yes, it’s quite a demanding job.

“Carers’ average age is around 50; it’s an older person’s job usually and it’s predominantly women that do the work. There are a lot of people from non-English speaking backgrounds because the conditions and wages are so low not a lot of people want to do the work so it’s usually people who are new to the country that do the work.”

It can be backbreaking work attending to elderly people with varying degrees of loss of mobility, dementia and depression. A lack of qualified staff means that minor incidents and ailments often result in an unnecessary ambulance trip to a hospital already straining to provide beds for patients. These situations will get worse with the effective funding cut.

Most importantly, there is the impact on elderly people receiving care at home or in facilities. Aged and Community Services CEO Patrick McClure said aged care providers question how the government could justify a figure that fails to address rising costs in the sector. “Older people living in their homes and those in residential aged care bear the brunt of funding shortfalls which directly impact on services,” he said.

Many are waiting to see what the government will do with the Productivity Commission’s final Caring for Older Australians report. The draft was circulated in January and made its priorities clear. Australians are to be forced into greater “self provisioning” for their old age one way or another. It proposed that the family home should be included in the assessment of assets for the determining of assistance from the Commonwealth, for example.

In a sector that regularly makes the headlines with exposés of scandalous treatment of elderly residents, the Productivity Commission proposed further deregulation and the cutting of more “red tape”. The Australian Nurses Federation’s call for the licensing of all workers in the sector was ignored. Increasingly, aged care is viewed as a business and the government’s job from the neo-liberal point of view is to create an environment for businesses to make profits and compete.

The draft disappointed on the concerns for workers in the sector.  

Next article – Defence Industry Expo picketed

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