One of the biggest challenges facing the Polish community in Australia is the provision of adequate care for our elders that is also culturally and linguistically appropriate.
In my presentation I will provide you with actual examples of inappropriateness and inequity in service provision that exists for older Australians of various ethnic backgrounds, including
Polish older persons.
Demographics (an overview)
You may be surprised to learn that the Polish community has the third largest number of older persons of all ethnic groups in Australia. Between 1947 and 1953 almost 50,000 Poles came
to settle here. The majority were Displaced Persons who had been forced into slave labour camps in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Some were as young as 15 and 16 years of age. Many
never saw their families again. Of those 50,000, today we have a population of 28,000 who are over 65 years of age, the majority being in their late 70s and early 80s.
Discrimination, Past & Present
Based on my own experience and that of my colleagues in working with our Polish elders, I am pleased to stand here and say that older Polish citizens living in this country are not
discriminated against intentionally. This could not have been said at the time when the majority of them came to Australia. Some of the examples they have shared with us include: someone spat on a
Polish newspaper a man was reading on a tram; banks had signs near the cashiers which read: "SPEAK ENGLISH".
Present-day discrimination takes another form: we as a community are not being treated fairly with regard to service provision - to be more exact, with regard to aged care.
Older people of Polish background, in a snapshot, could be described as a quiet community, conforming rather than standing out. I believe that because of this, the current pressures on the
service system, and the limited lobbying of elected members of parliament and government departments by the Polish community itself, the funds received for aged care within our community are
inadequate and disproportionate.
At the beginning of 2000, Polish older persons in the western region of Melbourne had to wait, on average, five years to access a Commonwealth funded service called Community Aged Care Packages
which enables the provision of individualised and holistic care based on each person's needs. I am pleased to say that the situation for our community regarding that particular program has
improved and the waiting list is now about six months, which is comparable to the general community. It took us 14 months to achieve this remarkable change.
There are almost 1500 elderly Poles living in the western suburbs of Melbourne and currently some have to wait up to three years for a service known as Day Care, which is part of the Home and
Community Care Program funded by the Commonwealth and State governments.
To the best of my knowledge, no Australian-born counterparts, have to wait so long for this type of service. One of my staff conducted a brief research on waiting lists for this program managed
by the so called mainstream organisations in that region. Again it appears that Polish older persons have to wait the longest to receive care, according to their service choice and that is: a
service provided the Polish way.
As I mentioned earlier, Polish older persons do not consider themselves a group discriminated against because of their ethnicity or because of their age. But rightly and understandably, many
are disappointed that after living here for 50 years - paying taxes, contributing to this society, rarely asking for help in the past - they cannot get access to a service that is linguistically
and culturally appropriate for them.
Inappropriate service response and unevenness in resource distribution on the part of government departments seem to be the two main reasons for elderly Polish people not being treated fairly
or as well as their Australian-born counterparts.
It seems to me that this unevenness in resource distribution is unintentional, and it is not targeted specifically at the Polish community. I believe it is a result of the current system of
funds distribution, political and bureaucratic processes, and the lack of close monitoring and evaluation of access and equity in service provision.
This is a speech given to the "Beyond Racism" Conference at the Sydney Opera House, March 12-13 2002. The original speech can be found here.
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