Budget: much to like, more to do

Sector stakeholders have largely welcomed the federal budget, which directs $36 billion into the aged care sector.

Sector stakeholders – including peaks, providers and unions – have largely welcomed the federal budget, which directs $36 billion into the aged care sector in 2023-24.

As previously announced last Thursday, this includes $11 billion to fund the 15 per cent workers’ pay rise.

“Aged care workers have been undervalued and underpaid for too long,” said Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler. “We are supporting a wage increase for them because it’s the right thing to do.”

In a Twitter post, Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells said aged care workers deserved “every cent”.

Tom Symondson

The pay increase “will help to make aged care a more attractive sector to work in,” said Tom Symondson, CEO of the Aged & Community Care Providers Association.

More than 250,000 aged care workers in residential and home care will receive the pay rise from 1 July. The increase, said Mr Symondson “is incredibly welcome and represents a crucial step in building and strengthening our workforce after a very challenging few years.”

The new funding commitments will help providers meet incoming mandatory requirements, said Mr Symondson, such as the increase in care minutes and registered nurses onsite 24/7.

Mr Symondson said the sector was encouraged by the government’s decision to raise the Australian National Aged Care Classification price – which funds the care that residents receive – by 17.6 per cent to $243.10 to pay for both the wage hikes and indexation.

“We understand that total indexation will increase by 5.7 per cent – more than triple last year’s indexation figure – which is something we advocated for, given the pressures inflation is having on the sector,” said Mr Symondson. “However, it still doesn’t match CPI [consumer price index], which will have an impact on aged care sustainability.”

Mr Symondson also welcomed the establishment of an aged care taskforce, which will provide advice on how to create a sustainable aged care system.

“ACCPA has been calling for some time for a national conversation about the sustainability of the sector, ensuring we have the funding we need to provide quality aged care services.”

Up for discussion will be the potential for consumer contributions from those who can afford to pay more, said Mr Symondson – an initiative ACCPA has long called for.

In relation to the government’s decision to postpone the 1 July 2024 commencement of the Support at Home Program to 1 July 2025, Mr Symondson said: “Whilst this will clearly be disappointing to many, we would much rather delay implementation for 12 months and get the new scheme right.”

Charles Moore

CEO of BaptistCare NSW & ACT Charles Moore described the budget as “historic” and welcomed the investment in the sector.

“Facing an ageing population and workforce shortages, we know that smart and strategic investments are the best way forward to future-proof the industry and ensure quality care remains available to all ageing Australians.”

He added: “We know that investment in the aged care sector pays off and creates value – not just for individuals receiving care, but for their families, for the community and for the economy.”

Australia’s Catholic aged care providers praised the government “for delivering meaningful investment to aged care.”

Jason Kara

Referencing the $11 billion to fund the workers’ pay rise, Catholic Health Australia’s aged care director Jason Kara said it was “much deserved” and staff would now “feel valued and respected”.

“This changes the negative narrative that has been dominating the aged care sector. It’s an excellent first step toward improving attraction and retention of aged care staff.”

Mr Kara said CHA – the peak body representing Catholic providers of health, community and aged care services – was pleased the government had paused the home care reforms.

“The Albanese Government and aged care Minister Anika Wells have demonstrated a real willingness to listen and engage with all stakeholders … the extra year was critical to ensure that the new system would provide quality, sustainable services that support people to remain in their own home for longer.”

Jason Eldering

Southern Cross Care Queensland CEO Jason Eldering said the budget demonstrated a government committed to delivering better outcomes. “We commend the government’s budget – all new investment into aged care is welcomed.”

However, Mr Eldering urged the government not to forget rural and remote communities. “The situation facing rural and remote providers is very different to our friends in metropolitan areas, and the budget could have gone further to specifically support those unique challenges.”

While acknowledging that the $36 billion is welcome and would “go some way to addressing the crisis the sector is experiencing in the short term,” CEO of Ryman Healthcare Australia Cameron Holland told Australian Ageing Agenda throwing cascades of cash at the sector wasn’t the answer.

Cameron Holland

“An alternative approach is needed to help fix Australia’s broken aged care system instead of just pouring more taxpayer dollars into a bucket with a hole in the bottom.”

He added: “There’s no path out of Australia’s aged care crisis that doesn’t involve some kind of consumer co-contribution model.”

It was encouraging, said Mr Holland, that the government has commissioned policy research on consumer co-contributions.

“The fact the government is looking at how to address this fundamental problem tells me it’s actually serious about fixing aged care in Australia long term … With the huge spike in demand that is starting to hit the sector, real reform of the sector’s funding model can’t come soon enough.”

Ray Scott

Also speaking to AAA, aged care lead partner of consultancy firm RSM Australia Ray Scott said the 15 per cent pay rise was a welcome “first step” in addressing staff shortages – but more action was needed.

“While this is what the sector was expecting, it is still well short of what is required to ensure the sustainability of providers in the sector that needed further support to meet the demands of the rapidly ageing population.”

Peak social advocacy organisation Anglicare Australia said, by handing aged care workers a pay rise, the government had not just talked the talk, but walked the walk.

Kasy Chambers

“This government has put its money where its mouth is by fully funding an aged care pay increase,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers. “This move recognises the importance of older people by recognising the crucial work that aged care workers do.”

Deputy chair of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council Graeme Prior said the workforce initiatives announced in the Albanese Government’s second budget recognised the “significant contribution” of aged care workers.

“They have put workers at the centre of their reforms, both in terms of demonstrating the critical role workers play and in supporting them with the cost of living.”

The $11 billion pay rise commitment “is a crucial step in recognising the essential work they do and will help the sector to attract and keep workers,” said Mr Prior.

Graeme Prior

However, he added that money isn’t the only answer. “The solution is more than simply increasing wages. We must improve career pathways and equip workers with the right skills and qualifications to help them do their jobs. We must help people see that aged care can be a rewarding career with viable and attractive options for career progression.”  

Unions also reacted to the workers’ pay rise. The Australian Council of Trade Unions welcomed the 15 per cent increase for aged care workers “most of whom are women providing quality frontline care to older Australians.”

The pay rise was “long-awaited” and welcome, said the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation, but it re-emphasised the need for government to enforce tight rules on providers’ use of the money.

“We emphasise, once again, the critical need for the government to formulate mechanisms which ensure accountability and transparency around these taxpayer funds to guarantee that all funding intended for the wage increase is used solely for its intended purpose, that is, for the pay packets of all aged care workers,” said ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler.

Patricia Sparrow

Council on the Ageing Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow acknowledged the “substantial action” taken by the government in the aged care space. In particular, the workers’ pay rise, the increase in care minutes, and 24/7 RNs.

“We know from older people that having enough well-trained staff makes a huge difference in the quality of care provided,” said Ms Sparrow.

However, she added “far greater” reform is needed, “so it’s disappointing that the creation of the new Support at Home Program has been delayed yet again in the budget.”

For the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association, the 12-month postponement of the home care reforms came as no surprise.

“The government was rightly criticised for not providing details of what it was planning for its long-time-coming Support at Home Program,” said CPSA policy manager Paul Versteege. “It now seems the detail was simply not available even to itself. It seems the government does not know how it is going to squeeze the larger CHSP [Commonwealth Home Support Program] into the corset of the much smaller HCPP [Home Care Packages Program].”

Craig Gear

The delay of the home care reforms is a disappointment, said Craig Gear – CEO of the Older Persons Advocacy Network.

“Frankly, this delay risks perpetuating the service gaps that older people are currently experiencing. Adequate home care is what older people deserve, and they shouldn’t have to wait for it.”

On a positive note, Mr Gear welcomed funding for the development and delivery of the Aged Care Act. “We are pleased to see the continued commitment to a rights-based approach as we build towards a new Aged Care Act, and that it will contain a statement of rights.”

Mr Gear also was “heartened” to see an increased focus on First Nations people in the budget.

“We too often hear stories of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not able to access he same level of support as other Australians and on Country – so we truly hope this increased focus will start to address these issues.”

Mr Gear was also pleased to see funding to release an additional 9,500 Home Care Packages but, he said, “they need to be targeting the right levels of support required, in the right locations, with the right enabling workforce.”

Main image: Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivers the budget speech to parliament

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Tags: ACCPA, Budget2023, Tom Symondson,

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