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Aged care workers biggest losers in Federal Budget

The 2022/23 Federal Budget has not delivered for aged care workers and has left many organisations and groups disappointed with the outcome for the sector, even after industry bodies called for funding increases to better support the workforce and the older people they care for.

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Last year's Budget of $17.7 billion for aged care was a blueprint for the next five years, whereas this year's budget is considered a "top up" by industry peak bodies. [Source: Parliament Live]

Many aged care organisations and peak bodies were hoping for positive funding that would benefit the reform efforts in the sector.

The aged care sector will receive a total of $10.1 billion in funding over the next year.

The Government has allocated an additional $468.3 million in the Budget for its aged care reform plan response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Paul Sadler, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) spokesperson, says that this Government strategy misses the mark for aged care and described it as a "steady as you go" Budget.

"Deeply disappointing in terms of the workforce, the failure to address the wages of aged care workers - how long is it going to take before a Government actually gets round to getting justice for the workers!" says Mr Sadler.

"From the point of view of the provider organisations of ACSA and the AACC, we cannot compete in the broader marketplace for workers. We really run the risk of losing our current experienced workers to other areas that can pay better. And obviously, we will struggle to recruit new staff if we can't be competitive from a wage point of view.

"The constant putting off of the day Government is going to have to do this is really, really disappointing."

Mr Sadler says that the sector has been calling for a long time for the workforce issues to be addressed, particularly in October last year when the AACC called on all parties to respond with a funding commitment to improve wages in aged care.

Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and also an AACC spokesperson, says that there are some positive outcomes of the Budget, however, there is a big 'but' when it comes to what is being delivered.

"Here we are yet again with a Budget that fails to address the structural deficiencies identified by the Royal Commission - that is wages of workers and the viability of services," says Mr Rooney.

"We know that the combined forces of relatively low wages in the sector alongside the rising costs of living pressures is putting more pressure on workers already going above and beyond in the normal course of business, let alone all the pressures brought on by the pandemic.

"...Workforce, funding and performance - they are the building blocks that need to be prioritised to transform the aged care system. While [within] this budget there are elements of it, it doesn't meet all of them and it doesn't pull them together in a coherent strategy to realise that."

He adds that LASA and the AACC are concerned that the Budget doesn't target the viability issues in residential aged care that were identified by the Royal Commission and exacerbated by COVID-19.

Federal Budget breakdown for aged care

Last year's Budget of $17.7 billion for aged care was a blueprint for the next five years, whereas this year's budget is considered a "top up" on new initiatives and planned reform by industry peak bodies.

The $10.1 billion for aged care will include:

  • An additional $468.3 million in the Budget to bring the total funding response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to $18.8 billion
  • $49.5 million over two years from 2022-23 to provide an additional 15,000 low and fee-free training places in aged care courses under the JobTrainer Fund
  • $345.7 million over four years to improve administration and medication management through on-site pharmacists and community pharmacy services in Government-funded residential aged care facilities (RACFs)
  • Another 40,000 new Home Care Packages will be released over the financial year
  • $5.4 million will allow consultation and development of the new Support at Home program
  • $20.1 million over three years to develop and implement the new Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN‑ACC) funding model in RACFs
  • $22.1 million over three years to establish a Multidisciplinary Outreach Services trial that will offer hospital-led access to specialists and other health practitioners for residents of RACFs
  • $18.3 million over two years to ensure a surge workforce is meeting Aged Care Quality Standards
  • $32.8 million over four years for clinical placements of students in the sector and expand the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program in aged care to five new remote locations
  • $10.8 million for a Cross-Agency Taskforce on Regulatory Alignment, which will implement the next regulatory reforms for aged care, disability and veterans' care
  • $6.1 million to extend the aged care system regional stewardship outreach model for another 6 months, which will strengthen aged care system governance
  • $215.3 million to provide up to $800 bonuses to aged care workers
  • $50.4 million for 4,000 nurse training places to learn how to deliver vaccination services to aged care residents and staff, as well as $37.6 million in grants for up to 2,907 training places in infection prevention and control of nurses

Other funding areas that will benefit older Australians include:

  • A $250 income tax-exempt payment for eligible pensioners, carers, veterans and concession cardholders in April 2022
  • A one-off living tax offset of $420 for low and middle-income taxpayers
  • $45.5 billion over four years to access more affordable medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • More than $2.4 billion to add vital new medicines to the PBS
  • Cost of living measures, including lowering the PBS safety net threshold by investing $525.3 million and temporary fuel excise relief
  • $4.2 billion to protect Australians against COVID-19, through supply and access to safe and effective vaccines, treatments and support for the health workforce, including aged care
  • $6.0 billion investment in a COVID-19 health response to support the Winter Response Plan, which will protect vulnerable Australians at risk of serious illness
  • $165 million over four years to improve veterans' services

Mr Rooney says he isn't surprised that wage increases aren't on the cards for aged care workers, as the Government already rejected the Royal Commission's recommendation to raise wages and didn't do anything in last year's Budget.

On top of that, Mr Rooney says that the Government has actively not participated in the current Fair Work Commission process which is investigating a wage increase for aged care workers.

"They have basically kicked the can down the road," explains Mr Rooney.

"These are the things we have got to solve because without a strong workforce we can't deliver better quality care.

"The only thing I would say is that we know there is an election coming. We need all the major parties to step back and say 'Can we take the politics out of aged care? Can we put people before politics and focus on how do we best resource and enable aged care workers and their services to deliver the care that older Australians need and deserve?'

"And to me, that means a reset of the reform process with whoever is in Government."

Aged care sector not impressed with Budget outcome

The sector has mixed feelings about the Budget outcome, as it provides some cost of living relief and new initiatives that would benefit older people, but not necessary changes needed to fix the bigger issues in aged care.

Peak body for older Australians, National Seniors Australia, has welcomed the costs of living relief but is disappointed with the lack of structural reform to the pension system.

Chief Advocate for National Seniors, Ian Henschke, says he wanted to see targeted measures to help people receiving in home care and eliminate the waiting list in this Budget.

"While the Government has significantly cut the waitlist over the past three years, it’s in danger of going backwards if there are not enough workers to meet demand. An additional $48.5 million for 15,000 low fee and free training places will not be effective unless it is targeted at the right people and is accompanied with a wage increase," says Mr Henschke.

He was also shocked that the 'Let Pensioners Work' campaign was not reflected in the Budget, even though there was strong support from the wider community.

Not-for-profit Catholic aged care peak body, Catholic Health Australia (CHA), believes there is "nothing of substance" in last night's Budget that will address the ongoing workforce crisis in aged care.

CEO of CHA, Pat Garcia, says, "Additional training places are all very well, but the sector is struggling to attract and retain aged care workers because they are simply not paid enough for the essential and demanding caring role they perform for the Australian community.

"When unemployment has the figure three in front of it then it makes the job of attracting people to the industry and to training places that much harder.

"Last night’s Budget should have been an opportunity to deliver real reform to ensure a sufficient and qualified workforce to care for the increasing number of older Australians needing care and support, but disappointingly it didn’t do that."

While there wasn't a lot of specific funding for dementia, peak advocacy body Dementia Australia did welcome the Government's commitment to aged care reform.

CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM, says, "A robust aged care system is essential to provide a guarantee of quality care to people living with dementia.

"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 there will be quality care for all.

"As we turn towards the election, while the pandemic will continue to present significant challenges across society, we must work with all parties and sectors to ensure providing better care for people living with dementia now and into the future remains a priority."

To view the full Federal Budget 2022-23, head to the Government Budget website.

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