By Jessica O’Bryan and Lilas-Mae Njoo
The government will commit $11.3 billion towards increasing the number of aged care workers by 8,000 and upping the average daily care of residents to 200 minutes, it announced in tonight’s budget.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers second budget supports the Fair Work Commission’s decision to deliver a record 15 per cent increase in wages for aged care workers, with the $11.3 billion set aside over four years to facilitate the increase.
A further $1.7 million has been allocated to appoint an interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner, as part of a strategy to address aged care problems in very remote communities.
Dr Nicole Sutton, a senior lecturer in accounting at UTS and lead author of the biannual Australia’s Aged Care Sector Report, told Central News the proposals would make a difference and level out inequalities in the workforce.
“It’s a major amount of taxpayers money that’s going to fund these programs,” she said.
“The aged care workforce is predominantly made up of women and many people who work in aged care are also migrants, or from very diverse social backgrounds.
“The pay rise does align with the government’s said aim of continuing to address the gender pay gap, and ensuring cost of living relief for people who are paid less within our society.”
Beginning on July 1 of this year, the wages of more than 250,000 aged care workers will lift, with an additional $7,100 a year for assistants in nursing and an increase of $10,000 a year for registered nurses.
In his budget address Chalmers said the government’s message to aged care workers is clear “you deserve every cent”.
Additionally, the budget aims to facilitate a higher standard of care through putting $81.9 million towards a proposed Aged Care Act, $139.9 million towards improving the Star Rating system and $12.9 million towards enhancing food and nutrition.
The Albanese government’s election campaign promised to have registered nurses in aged care centres 24/7 by July 1 2023. This change will help to reduce staff shortages, increasing average care minutes per resident per day to 200 and so allowing for this promise to be fulfilled.
However, smaller aged care providers may struggle to meet these requirements.
In April, not-for-profit aged care provider Wesley Mission announced the closure of its three remaining centres, located in Sylvania, Carlingford and Narrabeen, due to staff shortages. The centres are anticipated to close by the end of this month.
At the time its chief executive the Reverend Stu Cameron said his organisation supported the “once-in-a-generation reforms” and warned of the challenging environment for smaller providers.
However, larger aged care providers are also feeling the pressure.
One of Australia’s biggest, Bupa, said it had struggle with workforce shortages in rural and remote areas, which had informed the company’s own initiatives to incentivise regional workers, including traineeships, nurse graduate programs and financial assistance.
The budget will also deliver $52.1 million to increase aged care providers’ funding in very remote areas.
As recommended by the 2018 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the government has assigned a further $1.7 million to appoint an interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner. This will help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote communities receive aged care services whilst maintaining ties to country and community.
While the budget will substantially impact the 200,000 Australians who reside in aged care facilities, for 1.3 million Australians, aged care services take place in the home.
The government has invested $166.8 million to provide an additional 9,500 home care packages, however major reforms to the services have yet again been postponed from this year’s budget.
Dr Sutton said: “There’s been this intent to create a new unified program … but that’s actually been postponed again. It’s something I’m surprised about.”
Main image by G Morel/Flickr