This week’s Federal Budget did little for older Hunter people, particularly the growing number of vulnerable people needing aged care at home or in facilities.
Our politicians all say older Australians and aged care is a priority but most Budget measures were previously announced, already allocated and don’t go far enough.
There are one off energy assistance payments for pensioners and a one-off increase to the basic subsidy for residential aged care. There is funding for an extra 10,500 home care packages over five years but the current waiting list is 128,000. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recently heard evidence that this waiting list could be eliminated through an investment of around $2.5 billion.
What is missing from the major parties is structural reform, including in aged care. The Royal Commission is welcome but it will take time to make recommendations.
Meanwhile, my firm continues to help many families seek justice for people receiving poor clinical care or abuse in aged care facilities. Reforms such as greater numbers of appropriately skilled staff and effective regulation are urgently needed. The Aged Care Act 1997, which brought about a deregulated system that has encouraged investors whose focus is making money, needs to be overhauled.
Elder abuse, in home and in aged care facilities, is a growing and alarming problem in our community. At least five per cent of older Hunter people experience financial abuse, although there is much under-reporting.
The Budget re-announced a National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, including frontline service support and a new national hotline. NSW already has a hotline.
Last month the University of Newcastle launched a toolkit for law firms to help them better identify and prevent elder abuse, which my firm has started using. Financial services staff and health professionals need to be equipped to protect vulnerable people too. Plans for a national register of enduring powers of attorney are stalled.
We need a better resourced and integrated plan to tackle the big issues impacting older people. Government’s role is policy not just one off handouts and tax cuts. One-third of all Australian voters are aged 60 and over. This Budget and the reply from the Opposition is another missed opportunity to solve fundamental issues impacting the lives of people who deserve better.
Catherine Henry is the principal at Catherine Henry Lawyers and an aged care advocate.