Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield has confirmed the decision to cut 15 per cent from the Aged Care Workforce Fund in last week’s budget was made independently of the government’s current stocktake of workforce initiatives and was a cost savings measure.
Senator Fifield said that in the current economic environment, $220 million over the forward estimates was “still a very substantial fund”.
“There are decisions that government has to take across the board in relation to funding. We formed the view that $220 million was a significant amount of money over four years,” Senator Fifield told Australian Ageing Agenda on Friday.
The minister would not detail which programs within the fund would be cut or see their funding reduced and said he was awaiting the results of the workforce stocktake, which is due to report to government midyear.
“We’re waiting for the stocktake to report to identify how we best deploy that money in the future,” he said.
The decision, which saw $40 million stripped from the workforce fund over the forward estimates, has been criticised by employer peaks and unions as short-sighted and poor policy in light of the aged care workforce needing to triple by 2050.
The Aged Care Workforce Fund supports a range of initiatives including fully-funded VET training for aged care workers, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aged Care Employment Program, Dementia Care Essentials training and the Aged Care Education and Training Incentive Program, which provides incentives to workers to up-skill.
Current contracts under the Aged Care Workforce Fund end on 30 June 2015.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Patrick Reid said he was concerned that workforce was not being seen as critical to meeting aged care demand and governments could not abrogate their responsibility for workforce development and the resourcing of a strategic workforce plan.
“Government can’t escape their obligation in terms of funding workforce. Building a better skilled, more appropriate aged care workforce will improve outcomes for older Australians,” he told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Govt not looking for savings in dementia review: Fifield
Elsewhere, in a move that will be welcomed by aged care stakeholders, Senator Fifield confirmed the government’s stocktake of Commonwealth-funded dementia programs was not a cost savings exercise. “We’re not looking to reduce funding as a result of the stocktake of dementia programs,” he said.
“The purpose is to make sure that that money is being deployed to the best advantage.”
Concerns had been raised by dementia advocates over possible funding cuts resulting from the review, which covers the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Services (DBMAS), the National Dementia Support Program, Dementia Training Study Centres and HACC dementia support services.
According to the government, the review will ensure “national coordination, integration and effectiveness of dementia support programs”. Public submissions are due by 31 May.
Independent complaints body
Discussing the impetus for the budget measure to move complaints out from the Department of Social Services, Senator Fifield said he was convinced by the earlier reviews that found complaints should fall under a separate organisation.
He said the $2.8 million in savings over four years identified in the forward estimates would come from efficiencies by having one body responsible for complaints and reviews and that resources from the scheme would be transferred to the Commissioner’s office.
“[The Aged Care Commissioner Rae Lamb] will have the resources that she currently has and also the resources and the people who are currently dedicated to the Aged Care Complaints Scheme,” Senator Fifield said.
Caps off supply?
On the question of whether the government plans to remove supply caps on aged care places in the future, Senator Fifield said it was not in the government’s immediate plans.
“We’re taking things one step at a time. The first step from February 2017 is to attach the money to the individual. The next step is to look at July 2018 and bringing the Commonwealth Home Support Program and Home Care programs together. What happens thereafter is something that we will be looking at and talking to the sector about.”
Cash to consumers?
Senator Fifield said the option of paying home care subsidies directly to consumers to purchase their own care will be considered as part of the development of the single home care system from July 2018.
On the sustainability of rural and remote providers in a market environment, Senator Fifield said “liberating home care packages from the Aged Care Approvals Round” would make it easier for rural and regional home care providers.