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The sector responds to the Budget

After the delivery of the Federal Budget FY21-22 on Tuesday night, many aged care representatives provided their expert opinions on the Government's $17.7 billion allocation to the sector.

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Originally, there were leaked reports that the funding was going to be $10 billion for aged care in the Federal Budget, however, it ended up being $17.7 billion for the sector. [Source: iStock]

Initially, the aged care sector was concerned over leaked reports that the Federal Budget would only provide $10 billion over four years to the industry, however, sector experts seem mostly pleased with the formal response to the Royal Commission, including "record funding" for the sector.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), consisting of a number of industry peak bodies, has welcomed the funding and congratulated the Government on agreeing to implement most of the Royal Commission recommendations.

AACC representative and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), Patricia Sparrow, says after 20 Government reviews in 20 years of the sector finally there will be a response to the challenges facing aged care.

"This Budget gives real hope to more than 1.3 million Australians currently accessing aged care services, to the 360,000 care staff who provide critical services around the country every day, and to the tens of thousands of Australian workers our sector will need to employ over the coming years to meet the demands of our ageing population," says Ms Sparrow.

"Australia now spends half of what comparable countries do on aged care, and while this investment won’t close that funding gap entirely, it will provide structural relief in many critical areas."

Sean Rooney, AACC representative and Leading Age Care Services Australia (LASA) CEO, adds that it is promising that the Government has committed to a demanding timetable of reform.

"Eighty thousand new home care packages, relief for aged care homes under financial pressure, and workforce support including more care minutes per day and greater training and career development are significant steps forward," says Mr Rooney.

"It also deals with major reform including a new Aged Care Inspector General, the creation of a new independent pricing mechanism and revised quality standards through an expanded Australian commission on Safety, Quality and Health Care.

"What this means is we are on the pathway to realising a transformed aged care system, that is resourced and enabled to meet the needs of a growing number of older Australians."

Peak body for older Australians, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, has stated that they believe that the Federal Budget is a good start for older Australians, however further consultation will be needed in other areas.

COTA says that older people will benefit from measures in the Budget aimed at increasing workforce participation and fixing retirement incomes, but support for vulnerable groups, like renters, is still missing a long term solution.

Other community organisations and providers, like BaptistCare, Anglicare Australia, and Mission Australia have all expressed disappointment on the lack of leadership and action around affordable housing, development of social housing, and rising homelessness.

Chief Executive of COTA, Ian Yates, has welcomed the funding package as a meaningful response to the Royal Commission and noted the significant investment in improving the home care system.

"This is a serious and meaningful response to the ‘neglect’ identified by the Aged Care Royal Commission and the need to transform the industry," says Mr Yates.

"Aged care reform needs proper oversight to get the job done. The new Aged Care Act in particular, along with the oversight mechanisms of an Inspector General, an Independent Pricing Authority, a National Aged Care Advisory Council and the Council of Elders, sets us on exactly the right path. 

"We look forward to working with Government on the implementation of these important measures."

Peak consumer body for older Australians, National Seniors Australia, has also welcomed the extra Home Care Packages as part of the budget and additional care time for nursing home residents, however, is disappointed that thousands of people needing higher levels of home care will still be waiting.

Chief Advocate for National Seniors, Ian Henschke, says that the boost in Home Care Packages (HCP) shows the Government has listened.

"Since day one of the Royal Commission when home care was described as the running sore in aged care, we have campaigned hard to get extra packages after 16,000 older Australians died waiting for a HCP in one twelve month period," explains Mr Henschke.

"Our work is not done yet, but this is a good start.

"However once again it’s the people needing the highest level of home care who are missing out with six thousand extra Level 4 packages next financial year, and a further six thousand the following year."

Mr Henscke believes this won't clear the waitlist and Australia will still see more demand each year.

He adds that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had promised to restore faith in the system when he announced the Royal Commission, and the Budget on Tuesday has gone some way to restoring that faith, but more needs to be done in aged care.

"This is not the end of aged care repair, we’re just getting started,” says Mr Henschke.

Opposition budget response

Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, released his Budget response on Thursday night outlining his party's commitment to aged care.

Minister Albanese says, "Every one of us hope to grow old. More and more of us will live long enough to need extra care in our later years. But right now that thought fills a lot of Australians with dread.

"Our aged pensioners and retirees should have confidence that support will be there for them. None of us can say we weren’t told how to fix the system with the Royal Commission delivering a comprehensive set of recommendations for change.

"The Prime Minister must now explain why he has rejected so many of those important recommendations. Like the recommendation to require a nurse on duty in nursing homes at all times. Or support for increasing the appallingly low wages of hard-working aged care staff."

He outlined the need to do more for aged care, saying that the Federal Budget didn't do enough for the sector. 

Additionally, he was critical of the Government for not fully implementing changes like the Royal Commission had recommended, and bungling the vaccine rollout to aged care workers.

Minister Albanese says a Labor Government would support the Fair Work Commission to lift the wages of aged care workers, and would make dementia care management a core business of aged care, since every two in three aged care residents is affected.

"Older Australians were there for us, they have paid their taxes, held communities together, raised their families, served their country in war and in peace," says Minister Albanese.

"Older Australians deserve to be respected, to feel safe, to be comforted and treated with the utmost dignity. This cannot be beyond us.

"We can achieve this, we must achieve this. A Labor Government will deliver this. And a Labor Government will deliver that care by ensuring that every dollar spent in aged care goes to employing a guaranteed minimum level of nurses, assistants and carers and to daily needs like decent food - rather than into the pockets of the more unscrupulous providers."

The Health Services Union (HSU) Australia has welcomed the Labor Government's commitment to aged care workers.

The HSU says that the current Federal Government won't commit to lifting aged care workers wages above $21 an hour, whereas the opposition Budget response outlines better wage benefits for the sector's workforce.

President of HSU National, Gerard Hayes, says, "Anthony Albanese's declaration of support for the HSU's Fair Work Commission case to lift aged care wages by 25 percent is a bold step forward, as is his commitment to minimum staff ratios.

"This is a stark contrast with the Morrison Government, which committed only half the funds needed to properly resource the struggling sector in Tuesday’s Budget."

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