The responsibility for supporting our elderly belongs to us all, but in this election the political parties are continuing to avoid the crucial issue of aged care. Despite our strong understanding of demographic change there is a total lack of attention to the growing crisis of residential and community aged care.
As the federal campaign deepens, Labor may find a victory extremely difficult unless key seats in Victoria change hands and it is equally crucial for the Coalition to hold these seats. What will drive voter opinion in these key Victorian marginals?
In each of the key marginal seats in Victoria the 55-plus age group is a cornerstone voting block for any political party hoping to win this election. John Howard has put $4 billion dollars on the table to pay the bills of pensioners, but this does nothing to address the issues in residential aged and community care.
There is a vital common factor in key Coalition Victorian seats of Deakin, Corangamite, La Trobe, McMillan and McEwan as well as key Labor seats of Bendigo, Ballarat, Chisholm and Bruce. All of these seats have one in four voters aged over 55. Many of these voters already have their elderly parents in residential care or are in receipt of in-home care packages. Many more will have their elderly parents needing such care in the not too distant future.
There is no doubt that an increasing number of Victorians will come to experience the aged and community care system given our rapidly ageing population, and given the number of Australians aged over 65 will double by 2025. While the aged care industry plays a leading role in supporting families and respecting the dignity of our elderly, older Australians are being let down by politicians’ who seem determined to make aged care a non-issue this election.
The reality of the lives of working families is that the continuum of care through retirement living, in-home care and residential aged care is essential as they work to not only pay mortgages but support ageing parents and loved ones. Aged care providers are partners with families when it comes to providing quality of life to our elderly and it is essential that the government of the day significantly increases their resource allocation so we can build a sustainable aged care industry into the long term.
Every politician will tell you the impact of the ageing population is significant on our population, our economy and the workforce. They will point to the demographics as contributing to issues like the skill shortages and superannuation. But, they continue to ignore the fact that without significant investment now we won’t have the infrastructure or resources to the army of elderly who will need aged and community care services in the future.
In Victoria there are over 800 residential facilities providing care each day for over 45,000 Victorians as well as more than 11,000 receiving in-home care packages and many more thousands receiving home and community care services. And yet three key issues for our industry continue to be ignored.
First, the enormous challenge to recruit and retain a professional workforce into the future. With our ageing population the proportionate size of our workforce is in decline at the very time when the number of people entering aged care will double in less than twenty years. This is a key ingredient for an impending disaster.
Secondly no political party has made any commitment to ensure our industry can afford to pay higher wages to bridge the gap for nurses in hospitals. The failure by successive governments to provide adequate funding and indexation means our aged care nursing workforce is among the lowest paid nurses throughout Australia.
Finally, there are high expectations for quality accommodation and yet both political parties have ruled out bonds in high care as a key source of funds for providers to build and maintain high care facilities.
It is likely Victorian marginals will play a part this federal election, and one in four voters are aged over 55 in those key marginal seats. So, let us remember one key piece of information. The Australian Research Group Report, commissioned by the Aged Care Industry Council (ACIC), indicated that "three quarters of all Australian voters (76 per cent) believe that the need for greater government support for aged care will influence their vote at the next election".
Maybe the political parties will soon realise that both Victoria and our elderly in aged care services are actually part of the election too.
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