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Aged care sector looking for more funding and reform in soon-to-be-released Federal Budget

The 2022/23 Federal Budget will be dropping tonight with the aged care sector and organisations eagerly awaiting to see how this Budget will benefit the industry and older Australians.

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Older Australians and the aged care sector are eagerly awaiting to see what has been funded in the Federal Budget. [Source: Shutterstock]

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says that the Budget will deliver for many different cohorts, including older Australians.

"Tonight's Budget delivers for Australian families, for seniors, for small businesses, with cost‑of‑living relief now in a temporary, targeted and responsible way, while guaranteeing the essential services that Australians rely on by putting in place a long‑term economic plan to create more jobs and with further investments in defence and national security, reflecting the challenges that we now face," says Treasurer Frydenberg.

"...This is a responsible Budget with temporary, targeted measures designed to ease the cost‑of‑living pressures now."

A number of organisations in the aged care industry made pre-Budget submissions to campaign for important areas that could be improved if there was a funding injection.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), a group of six aged care peak bodies, recently released a report highlighting that aged care wages are not meeting the cost of living in the country.

On the morning of the Federal Budget, the AACC wants to see huge Budget reform that will benefit the aged care workforce and encourage worker retention.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA) and AACC spokesperson, Sean Rooney, says older Australians need to see support for aged care workers in this year's Federal Budget.

"What we would like to see in tonight’s Federal Budget is a commitment from the Government to support a pay rise for aged care workers, as recommended by the Aged Care Royal Commission," says Mr Rooney.

"Workforce is the key to aged care reform and we are now a year on from the Royal Commission. We need the Government to commit to a workforce strategy that improves wages and the quality of training and allows us to keep those experienced, valuable workers, as well as attracting new workers into aged care.

"We would like to see evidence of that commitment tonight."

There are three commitments the AACC wants to see reflected in the Budget, which were outlined during the pre-Budget submission stage, including:

  • A Workforce Partnership Supplement for providers to spend immediately on increasing wages, training, minutes of care, 24-hour nursing and COVID-19 prevention and workforce retention costs
  • A minimum wage increase for aged care workers by funding the Fair Work Commission Work Value Case, and award wage increases from July 2022
  • A commitment to a multidisciplinary workforce by putting in place an allied health needs assessment and funding model by July 2024

The AACC also made it clear in its pre-Budget submission that urgent action needed to be taken in regards to COVID-19, workforce and sustainability in aged care.

National Seniors Australia, an older peoples advocacy organisation, wants their 'Let Pensioners Work' campaign to be acknowledged in this year's Federal Budget.

Ian Henschke, Chief Advocate for National Seniors, says the adoption of the campaign would see older pensioners not be penalised for wanting to work.

At the moment, people on the Age Pension have their pension reduced by 50 cents for every dollar of income they receive over $480 a fortnight. Instead, the campaign wants the older pensioners to be able to work and just pay tax, rather than have their Age Pension compromised.

"The Let Pensioners Work campaign will deliver more workers, they will be able to keep their pension and keep working. We will be very disappointed if we don’t see the [campaign] get up tonight in the Budget," says Mr Henschke.

"We have heard about [Budget] leaks of the drop in petrol tax and the possibility of a $250 dollar payment for pensioners. But what we would like to see is more systematic change.

"And that is a change to the pension system to make it simpler and fairer, and that is why we say you have got to get rid of this system where you penalise [older] people for working more than one day a week. Make the system simpler - work and pay tax."

Mr Henschke adds that if this was adopted in the Budget, it would also fix the current workforce shortage issues and pension poverty.

Other Budget requests from National Seniors include:

  • A specific traineeship in aged care and home care, which would ensure the right people are entering the sector and guarantee a job at the end
  • Transparency around the basic daily fee supplement for food and nutrition in aged care
  • Funding for more workers, better-trained workers and better-paid workers

Dementia Australia, national dementia advocacy group, has highlighted three priority areas that should receive funding to provide the most benefit for people living with dementia. This includes:

  • Compulsory dementia education for the aged care workforce with an investment in training and education tools
  • Funding to roll out the South Australian-based Nightingale Program, a specialist palliative model of care initiative
  • Renewed funding for Dementia Australia's Dementia-Friendly Communities program

Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia, says, "Our current priorities have been tailored specifically to this budget, to fill the gaps in the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommendations and for the upcoming Federal Election.

"Whatever the outcome, Dementia Australia will continue this conversation with all sides of politics to ensure all Governments continue to plan ahead for the next five to ten years to keep dementia front of mind.

"We know from our work and broad consultation with people living with dementia, their families and carers, that if we get quality care right for people living with dementia then we get it right for everyone.

"For the sector to deliver quality dementia care as a consistent and integral part of aged care, we must support our workforce, strengthen their knowledge and skills and develop practice leaders and mentors.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting significant challenges for the sector – together we must continue to work to ensure better care for people living with dementia now and into the future."

Peak older persons advocacy group, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, called for this Budget to remain true to the Five Year, Five Pillar plan, put in place by the Government, to reform the aged care sector, as well as investment into the aged care workforce by committing to wage increases.

Other requests include:

  • Funding commitments that would support 24/7 aged care nursing and a minimum average of 215 care minutes per resident per day
  • Sustainable and higher-level funding of the National Partnership Agreement on Public Dental Services to support State and Territory public dental services, as well as funding for eligible older Australians of up to $1,000 for oral health and dental care treatments per annum
  • An increase in the maximum rate of the Commonwealth Rent Assistance as well as a commitment to a new model for low-income rental support
  • Liberalise the Age Pension Work Bonus to encourage part-time, casual, seasonal or self-employed work by Age Pension recipients

Carers Australia is asking for a number of funding initiatives that would benefit Australian carers, including:

  • Increased funding for the demand, needs and supply of respite care across all areas, like aged care
  • Continue funding the 'Caring through COVID' project to support all carers through the pandemic
  • Funding to establish a rights-based independent and confidential advocacy service for individual carers
  • Appointment of a Commissioner for Carers as well as the establishment of an Office For Carers within the Federal Government

CEO of Carers Australia, Liz Callaghan, says in the pre-Budget submission, "Becoming a carer is often not a choice. The impacts on carers can be profound, particularly on their own health and wellbeing.

"Never has this been more evident than in the experience of carers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolated, sheltering our most vulnerable Australians at home, carers have barely been recognised or acknowledged for the extra work they have done, unlike paid care workers.

"When the pandemic is over, many carers’ lives will not change – they will continue to be isolated, financially disadvantaged, and unrecognised."

The Federal Budget will be released at 7:30 pm (AEDT) tonight.

To get the full rundown of the Federal Budget, subscribe to the Talking Aged Care Newsletter or follow us on Facebook.

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