Experts in work and care policy are urging the next Australian government to address the high rate of old age poverty and the need for a comprehensive aged care workforce strategy as a matter of priority.
The recommendations are contained in an election benchmarks report released this week from the Work and Family Policy Roundtable – a network of more than 30 academics from 16 universities – which is demanding action in the area of social care policy.
The report said there is an urgent need to include unpaid carers, volunteers, agency workers and self-employed carers into the scope of policy development in aged care.
The movement of policy responsibility from the Department of Health and Ageing to the Department of Social Services and back again to the Department of Health has “added further confusion and impeded the rational development of good policy,” the group said.
In the area of home care, the roundtable has recommended the government review the impact of consumer directed care on working conditions and the quality of jobs in the sector.
Roundtable co-convener Professor Sara Charlesworth from RMIT University said a move towards employing workers for short periods of time and an increase in self-employed contractors was already been seen in some National Disability Insurance Scheme pilot sites, which has significant repercussions for working conditions.
Quality indicators in home care should also take into account client preferences for continuity of care and assess the extent to which workers are subjected to poor working conditions, including short and irregular hours, the report said.
“Our recommendations are premised on the idea that we are not going to get good quality care unless we have good quality jobs,” Professor Charlesworth told Community Care Review.
She said investment in care systems in Australia, which took into account both the paid and unpaid care workforce, delivered not only social but also economic returns through increased productivity.
“That is some of the theory behind the NDIS, that it will free up people who have been hitherto not in the paid workforce or working very few hours to engage in paid work by having their family members with disability properly cared for.”
Co-convener Emeritus Professor Barbara Pocock of the University of South Australia said more attention must be paid to the wellbeing of older women. “The legacy of a lifetime of care should not be an old age dominated by worries about money and poverty. A liveable age pension is a must.”
The report also recommends introducing dedicated paid palliative care leave as an entitlement and paid annual leave and carers’ and personal leave for casual employees on a pro-rata basis.
Read the full election benchmarks report here
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