On January 21 The Productivity Commission released a draft report that outlined recommendations to reform the support and care for older Australians. The UnitingCare network, one of the largest providers of aged care and community services in Australia, welcomed this report.
We encouraged the Parliament to stand with older people and the services and staff that support them by agreeing on the necessary legislation and budget measures that will deliver the reforms needed to improve choice of, access to, and sustainability and fairness of aged care services.
There was almost universal applaud for the draft report. Predictably, the recommendations which generated the most concern relate to increasing the contribution of older people to the costs of care and accommodation provided in aged care facilities.
Some commentators have referred to the battles in the late 1990’s when many provider groups, consumers and other commentators argued against increasing contributions from older people to the costs of aged care.
There were strong voices against bond payments for high level residential care and the Government of the day did not adopt this policy. UnitingCare was one of those voices.
But things have changed a lot since then, and now UnitingCare Australia stands with other providers, with consumer organisations and with professionals and Unions to support individual contributions.
Australia’s economy and the financial status of Australia’s households have changed significantly in the last 15 years. Since 1996 we have gone part way to becoming the so-called “share-owning democracy” in which families who had previously never taken part in the stock market have grown their wealth through owning shares.
We have seen people who came from modest backgrounds being able to help their children into the housing market, or buy an investment property, as well as owning their own home. The sustained period of growth in the economy has created wealth for companies and generated high wages for the skills the mining, telecommunications and financial sectors need. Many Australians can live a life of comfort our grandparents would have considered extravagant.
We have seen demographic changes as well.
Many of the people who have increased their wealth and financial security over the past 15 years are Baby Boomers, the generation who will drive a quadrupling of demand for aged care in the coming decades. It is reasonable and fair to enable those people who are financially secure to contribute to the costs of the place they live when they need aged care, and the costs of the care they receive.
In fact, we could reasonably expect that the Baby Boomers who are financially secure are well able to cope with the cost of contributing to their accommodation and care. In general they are healthy, active and engaged. They plan to continue to participate and contribute in their communities for many years to come.
However, we know that with improvement in health care, this generation will live longer once the effects of ageing set in, and as they are less able to care for themselves. This will increase demand for both health and aged care services, and increase the length of time for which these services will be provided.
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