By Yasmin Noone
The federal government’s recent aged care reform announcement rated as a non-event for most people outside the sector, with an overwhelming majority of Australians unaware of which reform measures were introduced, or even the fact that an announcement was made, according to polling results released this week.
An Essential Media poll of a representative sample of almost 2,000 Australians has found that only seven per cent had read or heard ‘a lot’ about the recently announced changes to aged care.
A further 26 per cent said they had read or heard ‘some’ information about the aged care reform package announced on 20 April; more than 30 per cent read or heard ‘a little’; and 30 per cent read or heard ‘nothing’ about aged care reform.
The polling results, which have three per cent margin of error, showed that 11 per cent of those who had have read or heard ‘a lot’ about the reforms were Labor voters, as were 31 per cent of the respondents who knew ‘some’ information about reform.
It also found that older respondents were more likely to have read or heard ‘some’ details about the aged care changes – 33 per cent of those aged 55-64 and 39 per cent of those aged 65-plus.
Essential Media Communications director, Peter Lewis, said the survey results portray how well a big announcement, like aged care reform, was received by the community and how much “cut through” the government’s reform activities actually got in the media.
“Interestingly, 30-plus per cent of respondents said they heard nothing or don’t know about aged care reform,” Mr Lewis said.
“It’s interesting as the reforms came out in the middle of the Slipper [affair] which dominated headlines.”
Mr Lewis reasoned that it was likely that the community was unaware of the federal government’s 20 April announcement because it only received minimal media coverage, compared to other, larger political issues.
“I think there’s serious policy and then, there’s day-to-day politics. And day-to-day politics tends to be what is at the forefront of the bulletin and newspapers, is an easier story to sell and the kind of story that the public is receptive to.
“The Opposition has agreed not to play party politics with aged care. So it’s harder to get a story out [about it] because it is not politically contentious.”
The weekly poll about recent news items, which goes out to a distribution list of 10 000 recipients, asked: “The Federal Government recently announced changes to aged care which included extra funding, better access to aged care services, capping costs of aged care accommodation and in-home care and means testing aged care accommodation costs. How much have you read or heard about those aged care changes?”
National director of UnitingCare Australia, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said the poll question was too complicated and was “not surprised” that people answered the way they did.
“The poll asks if you are across the fine detail about reform but who outside the system is across all the detail?” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
“For me, the question is not ‘do Australians out there know there is a reform package and do they understand the detail of it?’
“In some ways, that question is neither here nor there.
“The real question ‘do Australians want aged care reform’. I think overwhelmingly they do.”
The EMC poll contained two questions on aged care reform – one on the community’s awareness about it and the other on the community’s attitude towards it.
When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the government’s changes to aged care”, 61 per cent of respondents replied saying they approved of the changes while only seven per cent did not.
Older respondents were also more likely to approve of the changes – 78 per cent in favor were aged 55-64 and 71 per cent were aged over 65.
“…Aged care is an issue that [entails] lived experience and the numbers of people [aware of the reforms] are higher among older people and people with older parents,” Mr Lewis said.
“It’s not an issue like, say, interest rates that affect everyone. But I think the approval rate of aged care reform is high.
“…If I was the aged care sector, I’d be happy with results but also indicates more work needs to be done. But that’s not on the part of the sector as it’s the government’s job to make this a top of mind issue for the electorate.”
CEO of COTA Australia and spokesperson for the National Aged Care Alliance, Ian Yates, agreed that the question was very complex. But regardless, he interpreted the poll results as a positive indicator of community awareness surrounding aged care reform.
I thought the question “covered a whole lot of areas and asked how much the [respondent] had read or heard about those changes”.
“I was actually surprised that seven per cent had read a lot although there was a lot of media about the changes,” Mr Yates said.
“There was coverage [of the reforms in the media] on Friday and there was heavy print media on Saturday. Anyone who watched television around that time was aware of it.”
Mr Yates said, in fact, when you add up the percentage of people who had either heard/knew ‘a lot’, ‘some’ and ‘a little’ information about reform, a total of 63 per cent were aware of the announcement.
“That’s about a third of people saying they had a reasonable acquaintance with the fact that these changes were coming in.
“So I thought it was clear that a very significant majority noticed that something was happening in aged care.
“I think a lot of the community has a level of awareness that there are some problems in aged care and there is a need to get on and fix them.”