Aged care providers have said the Federal Government’s plan to revive the work for the dole scheme, which could require some Newstart recipients to volunteer in aged care facilities, is worthy of consideration.
Government ministers began to float the program in media interviews over the weekend. They said the details of the plan were yet to be finalised but the government would work with appropriate community organisations, with aged care mentioned as a possible partner sector.
The Assistant Employment Minister, Luke Hartsuyker said there was no start date for the program, but he had been working with stakeholders to look at ways in which not-for-profit employers could host job seekers.
“And that might be a maintenance activity in the grounds of an aged care facility, for instance. We would not intend that work-for-the-dole participants would be involved in any way in the care of patients for example,” he told ABC Radio.
Mr Hartsuyker confirmed that the job seekers would be required to undertake police checks and other standard employee checks before volunteering at facilities. “They’re the sort of details that I’m working through at the moment to ensure that the placements that are made are appropriate.”
He said that people on benefits struggled financially to travel long distances to participate in an activity, and the scheme would aim to place job seekers as close to their place of residence as possible.
Senator Mitch Fifield, the assistant minister with responsibility for ageing, said the program was based on the concept of reciprocal obligation.
“If the community is supporting you in a time of need, it’s not unreasonable to expect that you put something back into the community,” he told Sky News. “We’ve made no secret of the fact that if we were successful in gaining government that we would want to revitalise the work for the dole program… The details are yet to come but will be announced in due course.”
Heather Witham, spokesperson for Aged and Community Services Australia, said that as much as the aged care sector would appreciate extra assistance, aged care facilities were the homes of the frail residents and it was necessary to ensure that people working there were properly trained and had police checks to maintain the safety and confidence of those residents.
“It is in the early days of this being examined by the government and we would be keen to work with them so that our special needs are considered as they develop their program,” she said.
Patrick Reid, chief executive officer of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), also highlighted the legal requirement for all volunteers to undergo a police check.
He also said that to ensure quality care, volunteers should be provided with an intensive orientation session.
“Working with older Australians, especially those living with dementia and complex health needs, is challenging. LASA is mindful that strict selection processes would need to be in place to ensure high quality care is maintained.
“We need to be confident that suitable applicants are well supported and that the costs of both the police check and orientation are met by the Commonwealth,” said Mr Reid.
Catholic Health Australia CEO Martin Laverty said there was a long history of volunteering in Australian aged care. Millions of family members, neighbours, church volunteers and community members played key roles in helping older Australians remain active when they otherwise might be dependent on formal paid care, he said.
“In the years ahead, shortages in the aged care workforce will become more acute, which will force us as a nation to take new approaches in ensuring we have enough staff to care for older Australians. As we develop new and expanded roles for volunteers in caring for the aged, quality and safety of care must be key.
“The community is rightly focused on lifting standards of care, and to lift care standards we need the right people, properly motivated, with the best training behind them.
“Any Federal Government initiative that can attract quality caregivers is worth consideration,” said Mr Laverty.