Living Longer Living Better – the Federal Government’s new mantra forAustralia’s ageing population and our aged care system heralds a new era for the sector and Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).
ACSA’s members provide the bulk of community care acrossAustralia, often delivering the only aged care services in rural and remote areas. Our members provide services for older people from marginalised groups and quality care for thousands of residents in metropolitan and regional settings.
ACSA’s origins date back to 1975, when the Australian Affiliation of Voluntary Care Associations was formed in response to the Government’s desire to communicate more effectively with the not-for-profit (NFP) aged care sector.
A national body representing the NFP voice was an important milestone, both for providers, and for the advancement of systemic reform.
On the eve of the new century, the peak body became ACSA to more accurately represent our members’ comprehensive network of services.
In the intervening years, ACSA built on the strengths and goals of its predecessors to raise the profile of aged care issues and work with successive governments to plan for an ageing population.
Building momentum to bring about a transformation to ensure a sustainable aged care system able to meet both the needs and wishes of older people, has taken dedication and perseverance.
The past decade has seen at least five significant inquiries into aged care and six ministers for aged care (Mark Butler being the seventh) and no major adjustments to a system designed for 1960sAustralia.
Campaigning for change
In 2009, ACSA embarked on a campaign to reinforce the need for imperative changes and bolster the image of older Australians and aged care.
Research based on consultations with key stakeholders revealed that most considered aged care to be of critical importance – consumers and the public had a generally positive view of the sector, and nine out of 10 consumers were satisfied with services. Aged care workers believed the community had a negative perception of aged care.
The findings were used to develop the Image Campaign – Can’t do it without you. Aged care workers featured in the messages, which emphasised their integral role in helping older people make the most of their lives – we couldn’t do it without them.
To focus public and government attention on the fact that ageing and aged care is part of life, the campaign included a dedicated website incorporating a video of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Kevin07) ageing to become Kevin 87.
The successful campaign enabled a unique platform for communication with governments, the sector and the community.
The following year saw the release of the Intergenerational Report 2010, the announcement of terms of reference for the Productivity Commission inquiry into aged care, and a federal election.
In the lead up to the August election 2010, ACSA embarked on a campaign in collaboration with 10 other peak bodies and national services providers of residential and community aged care and housing.
The Campaign for Care of Older Australians (CCOA) prepared the Grand Plan, a vision for aged care reform. CCOA lobbied the Federal Government and opposition parties to reach a consensus on an urgent overhaul of an outdated and underfunded system.
A Grand Plan web site enabled the public to send postcards to “grand” older friends and family. The cards also triggered a letter to politicians. More than 26,000 letters to MPs including the Prime Minister were distributed via the website.
An aged care election debate, organised by CCOA, with the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Rachel Siewert, fuelled the push for reform.
The election outcome delivered a new Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler. The Productivity Commission (PC) then released its draft report Caring for Older Australians in January 2011.
The National Aged Care Alliance (NACA), of which ACSA is a member, launched the Australians Deserve to Age Well project incorporating a Blueprint for Reform to maintain the impetus for action.
Living Longer, Living Better
The PC’s final report, released in August last year, attracted broad industry and public support. The Government announced its response with the Living Longer, Living Better reform package on April 20th and formalised its response in the 2012 Federal Budget.
ACSA welcomed the package and the Government’s commitment to current and future generations of older Australians who depend on aged care services.
We have come a long way down the path to creating a modern and responsive formula for aged care. However, the complexities of our current system mean that the next phase will not be a simple process.
The Age Well campaign accurately describes the current system as a minefield, inconsistent and complicated.
From both provider and consumer perspectives, we cannot afford to have any further impediments to optimum aged care for all older Australians who will number an estimated 3.5 million people by 2050.
Currently beds, or places, in residential care facilities and packages to support people in their own homes are “rationed” by the Government. It is a system based on the estimated numbers of people, per thousand of the population, who will need a particular service each year.
ACSA welcomed the Government’s plan to increase the number of home care packages in keeping with older people’s preference to remain in their own homes as they age. We will continue to press for further expansion of these services.
ACSA supports the philosophy that aged care should be an entitlement, not rationed care.
Residential care places remain problematic. Aged care facilities, like any major developments, are expensive to build, maintain, and require long lead times for planning permits and construction. Financing is a major obstacle.
The Government’s plan to ensure sustainability by introducing accommodation bonds for all residential care – currently only paid for low-care – is an important step in the right direction.
The proposed changes to the existing web of government subsidies and funding arrangements for providers require further urgent clarification, without which there is a risk that investment in new and existing facilities will stall.
A cost of care study is at the heart of resolving many of the issues confronting the industry. ACSA has urged the Government to make the study a priority for the new independent Aged Care Funding Authority (ACFA) to ensure a sound and transparent basis for determining fees and charges.
The costs of providing aged care will escalate in keeping with the numbers of Australians who will need services and accommodation in the coming decades.
The health care and social assistance industry, which includes aged care, is now the largest inAustralia, employing more than 1.3 million workers. Almost 70 per cent of workers in residential aged care are employed in the NFP sector. The Productivity Commission estimates that by 2050 the aged care workforce alone will require almost one million workers.
However, our workforce is ageing and there are challenges ahead if we are to maintain and expand the numbers of aged care workers.
The system mirrors the complexity of the health and social needs of ageing individuals.
ACSA has an important role to play in ensuring the implementation of the Living Longer Living Better package is seamless, with no unintended consequences for consumers, aged care workers or providers.
In keeping with a new era for aged care, ACSA is relocating fromMelbourneto our original base inCanberra. The move will enable us to build on our strong links with the Government, MPs and bureaucrats who will oversee the transition to a new system. Our new office opens on 1 October.