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‘Action now’: Budget 2021 must ‘deliver hope’ to pensioners

·5-min read
The aged care sector is demanding a significant commitment to funding – now. (Source: Getty)
The aged care sector is demanding a significant commitment to funding – now. (Source: Getty)

Reported plans to increase aged care funding by $10 billion over four years don’t go nearly far enough to address the broken aged care system, several pensioner, consumer and medical groups have warned.

The Government is planning to spend upwards of $10 billion on home care packages, the SMH reported last week.

But this figure falls far short of what the aged care sector actually needs for real change to happen, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has said.

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“The Royal Commission itself estimated that successive government cuts had already left a shortfall of almost $10 billion annually,” said Dr John Maddison, RACP spokesperson and president of the Australia New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine.

“Is $10 billion over four years really going to be enough to resource the kind of system overhaul that would achieve integrated long term healthcare support for older Australians?”

The Aged Care Royal Commission made a total of 148 recommendations in its final report that was tabled to Parliament at the beginning of March.

One of the report’s findings was that the broken aged care system was in part due to the Government’s own cuts to spending, which amounted to over $9.8 billion in 2018-19.

“The current aged care system and its weak and ineffective regulatory arrangements did not arise by accident. The move to ritualistic regulation was a natural consequence of the Government’s desire to restrain expenditure in aged care,” the final report stated.

“In essence, having not provided enough funding for good quality care, the regulatory arrangements could only pay lip service to the requirement that the care that was provided be of high quality.”

The Grattan Institute has said that $10 billion per year would be needed to implement serious reform to this sector.

What do aged care groups actually want?

In short, more funding – as soon as possible. In response to the Aged Care final report, 12 aged care consumer organisations put together a joint statement outlining 10 specific measures they want to see implemented in the upcoming Budget.

This includes full transparency about staffing, compliance, and quality measures to help consumers make informed decisions when choosing a provider; higher wages; minimum staffing levels; and a strong, independent regulator to scrutinise aged care providers and enforce protections.

Council on the Ageing Australia (COTA) CEO Ian Yates said the Federal Government could not afford to further delay reforms.

“We are sending a clear message to the Morrison Government that older Australians expect action now,” he said.

“The Government cannot get away with cherry picking a few recommendations now but saying it will consider the rest later.

“That will not wash with the many hundreds of thousands of older Australians who are looking to this Government to deliver them hope that they, and their families, will enjoy a radically better aged care system than the one we have today.”

Meanwhile, RACP said the Aged Care report recommendations that should be prioritised include improved assessment provisions, better access to specialists, and reiterated the call for greater investment in skills, training, qualification to address under-resourcing.

“They mandate a more significant commitment from Government that makes delivering all their recommendations possible – not a temporary boost that kicks the can down the road,” said Dr Maddison.

“Too many older Australians are not getting the support they need to experience a decent quality of life. While the focus on home care is overdue it will fail to address many of the worst failures in the system,” he said.

Furthermore, health services between the Commonwealth and state-funded bodies need to be better-coordinated, he added.

The National Aged Care Alliance, which encompasses 54 peak national organisations in aged care, consumer groups, unions and health groups, said it expects the May Budget to include “substantial” commitments in funding across four years and beyond.

The Alliance said it expects “immediate action” from the Government, including clearing the Home Care Package waiting list; drafting a new Aged Care Act based on human rights; creating a new aged care program to be co-designed with older Australians; fund culturally safe, trauma-informed care to diverse and marginalised groups; and many others others that COTA’s joint statement called for, such as greater transparency of the delivery of care and higher minimum wages for staff.

What has the Government done so far?

Immediately after the Aged Care Royal Commission’s report was released, Morrison committed an initial $452.2 million and said a more comprehensive response would be forthcoming in the May Federal Budget.

Picture of Prime Minister Scott Morrison holding up Aged Care Royal Commission final report
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers the Royal Commission Report into Aged Care on March 01, 2021. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

But he also signalled the Government would not necessarily commit to all of the final report’s recommendations, and stated that many of them were “conflicting” with one another.

"Some of the recommendations are completely different to each other and they set out the reasons for that. And so the Government will have to obviously work through that and consider it,” Morrison said in a press conference in March.

"The issues raised in this royal commission must be addressed and the fundamental issue is the generational paradigm shift that needs to take place in the way that we deliver aged care services in this country. Individualised, needs-based, dignity care and respect. That's what we need to do. That's what I'm committed to doing."

The Federal Budget 2021 will be delivered at 7:30pm AEDT on Tuesday night.

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