Budget 2024: stakeholders react

This year’s federal budget has given aged care stakeholders measures to both smile and grimace about.

A lack of any information about the government’s response to the Aged Care Taskforce report has topped the disappointment list for aged care stakeholders with insufficient additional home care packages coming in second.

In a nutshell, this week’s budget includes $2.2 billion in new funding for aged care. Most of that is going to pay for upgrades to technology systems and digital infrastructure across the sector to sustain current systems and make the new Aged Care Act and home support programs possible ($1.4 billion). About a quarter of it is going to 24,000 additional home care packages ($531 million). The budget also confirmed the new Act would commence on 1 July 2025 – which has drawn a mixed response from stakeholders – and commitment to fund the latest pay rises coming out of the Fair Work Commission work value case.

In a video posted on Tuesday evening after leaving the budget lock up, Aged & Community Care Providers Association chief executive officer Tom Symondson called it “a mixed budget for aged care” with the biggest disappointment around nothing on the Aged Care Taskforce’s recommendations to address the sector’s sustainability.

Tom Symondson

“And the big news, unfortunately is we did not see the response to the taskforce. Now that’s a big problem for us. We weren’t expecting details tonight, but we were expecting something. So we are now calling on the government, the opposition and the crossbench to get really serious about this so we can get it in place and make sure our sector’s sustainable,” Mr Symondson said.

He praised the commitment to fund the next stage of pay rises for workers and the new date for the commencement of the Aged Care Act.

“We’ve got the pay rise for stage 3 of the work value case funded. That’s fantastic news and helps us keep going with our good progress on retention and recruitment,” Mr Symondson said. “We’ve seen the Act implementation deferred to 1 July 2025. And that’s great because it gives us certainty, but it means it’s even more important to see the draft actually introduced to parliament soon.”

But he expressed disappointment over the low number of new aged care packages and nothing on the Aged Care Taskforce report. “We’ve got 24,000 New Home Care Packages, that’s not enough, we asked for 80,000, we would have been very happy with 40,000. We’ve got 24,000. It’s a start, but we need more,” he said.

Budget lacks viability support for home care providers

Aged care consultant Jennene Buckley – co-founder of Enkindle – was also disappointed the government gave no position or commitment to the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations. “An indication from government about when we should expect a response would be a reasonable request of industry,” Ms Buckley told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Her highlights also include confirmation of the July 2025 go-live date for the new Act and Government’s commitment to fund the final decision of the Fair Work Value Case. Ms Buckley also praised the extension of the Home Care Workforce Support Program for rural, regional and remote areas.

Jennene Buckley

Other items on her “disappointing” list include the significant funds going into technology, digital infrastructure and supports to ensure system readiness for the new home care program and new Act “but no clear offer of funds to support aged care providers to upgrade their technology and digital infrastructure to ensure their success in implementing the new Act and Support at Home.”

She’s also disappointed there is no support for home care providers to improve their business process and long-term viability – like the Business Improvement Fund grants announced in the 20-21 budget available to small-to-medium residential aged care providers to improve. 

“There has not been the same offer of support for Home Care providers. With only 13 months out from the new Support at Home and the new Act, I was hoping to see an injection of one-off financial support to enable home care providers to improve their systems and business processes to ensure they can be successful in 2025 and beyond. We have over 1300 Commonwealth Home Support Program providers who deliver target local aged care support across the country. We want to make sure they can successfully transition across to the new Aged Care Act and the new Support at Home. One-off supports to fund infrastructure, change and project management would have been a welcome lifeline for many of these providers,” Ms Buckley told AAA.

Budget not for older people

Highlighting a lack of response to the taskforce’s report and home care waiting times, the CEO of aged care provider Uniting NSW.ACT – Tracey Burton – said the budget was clearly not for older people.

Tracey Burton

“Older people must be deeply disappointed that the Government missed the opportunity of this budget to respond to the Aged Care Taskforce and is not holistically tackling the funding issues in aged care. The Treasurer told us this was a budget for every Australian, but not if you’re older and in need of aged care or waiting for a Home Care package,” she said.

Ms Burton welcomed additional funding around regulatory reform and wages but said reform delays made it difficult for providers to plan, build new aged care homes or upgrade existing ones.

“With the pause button still pressed on the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations and delay in finalisation of the Aged Care Act, the sector can’t plan, we can’t strategise and we can’t act on the very real need we face, now and in the future, to meet the anticipated and the very real needs of older people.”

Similarly the additional 24, 000 Home Care packages are welcomed but it will not erase waitlists, which at the end of last year included nearly 52,000 people, Ms Burton said. “These additional packages will halve the number on the wait list but wait lists will still be six months long. And it will mean those who receive a home care package will not be funded according to their need; they will start with a lower care package and go onto a wait list for one that meets their need,” she said.

“The Government now needs to dedicate itself to urgently finish the work of the Aged Care Taskforce to ensure the sustainability of the aged care sector so that older people can receive the support they need and age with dignity.”

Down payment on reforms

Anglicare Australia said the budget’s funding for care at home and funding for a pay increase for aged care workers made a down payment aged care reforms.

Kasy Chambers

“Aged care workers have been undervalued for years. Instead of being rewarded for their vital work, many are forced to leave the sector to get the pay they deserve,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.

“Tonight, this Government has put its money where its mouth is by fully funding an increase to aged care pay. This move recognises the crucial work that aged care workers do in looking after older Australians, and values it.”

Missing however is a sustainable funding model for aged care, she said. “We hope the Government builds on tonight’s Budget with a real plan to tackle funding for aged care in the long-term,” Ms Chambers said.

Consumers unhappy with Act start date, home care measures

The Older Persons Advocacy Network is not happy with the new commencement date for the Aged Care Act. OPAN CEO Craig Gear said: “We are disappointed to see the Budget Papers indicate that the new Aged Care Act will commence on 1 July 2025, rather than this year which we have strongly advocated for.”

Craig Gear

While welcoming the $531 million funding to roll out additional home care packages and the $48 million investment in Veterans’ Home Care and Community Nursing, Mr Gear said more was needed to support people at home.

“The current wait times for Home Care Packages is at unacceptable levels. The additional 24,100 Home Care Packages are welcomed and provide further relief, but more needs to be done to deliver an integrated and streamlined aged care system that supports older people at home – delivering care based on their needs and delivered at the time they need it,” Mr Gear said.

“[We] are disappointed there is no additional growth funding to reduce wait times for entry level support in the aged care system and that unspent Commonwealth Home Support Program funds will be reallocated to other aged care programs.”

Get money into the pay packets of aged care workers as quickly as possible

COTA Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow welcomed the Government’s commitment to funding the recently awarded wage increase. “We look forward to the determination from the Fair Work Commission in the near future to get money into the pay packets of aged care workers as quickly as possible.”

Ms Sparrow also highlighted funding going to the state and territories to provide outreach and virtual care services to aged care residents and upskilling the residential aged care workforce. “We saw the terrible gaps and flaws in health care in aged care during the pandemic – ensuring better access to the same health services all Australians can access is critical,” she said.

Patricia Sparrow

However, only 24,100 additional home care packages and the diversion of $21 million a year of Commonwealth Home Support Program funds to other aged care sub-programs is less good news for people living in their own homes, Ms Sparrow said.

“This is not enough funding to help those who can wait over a year for support they’re assessed as needing. Older Australians should not be left stranded in hospital, forced into residential aged care, or die waiting for support that never comes.”

She reiterated COTA Australia’s position that any older person needing support is receiving it within 30 days of being assessed. “We are a long way from achieving this, with the budget papers setting a new target for low level assessments of 40 days – just for the assessment to be completed.”

When will govt introduce Act introduce into Parliament?

On the new start date for the commencement of the new Act, Ms Sparrow said the starting line for the parliamentary processes to commence is still unclear.

“The Aged Care Act was the number one recommendation from the Aged Care Royal Commission. We need the Government to introduce the Act into Parliament as a priority to allow proper scrutiny and community conversation, and we need the support of the whole Parliament to ensure it is passed by the end of this calendar year so the sector is ready to implement it from 1 July 2025.”

Comment on the story below. Follow Australian Ageing Agenda on LinkedInX (Twitter) and Facebook, sign up to our twice-weekly newsletter and subscribe to our premium content or AAA magazine for the complete aged care picture.  

Tags: Budget 2024, craig gear, jennene buckley, Kasy Chambers, patricia sparrow, Tom Symondon, tracey burton,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *