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The Crisis that is - Aged Care
Aged Care, and in particular, residential aged care, has been in crisis for a lot longer than simply the last decade. Staff must receive a pay increase in the range of 100% - yes doubled. At $23 an hour a 25% increase would be an insult and 50% insufficient. The cost and quality of training should also be reviewed. At the current level of reimbursement, the cost of training should be free.
Now I know I am not an aged care specialist, but it was my solemn obligation for fifteen years to head a Diocese with a significant residential aged care portfolio. This portfolio has since been relinquished in recognition that, despite best intentions, the Diocese was simply not capable of delivering the quality of care that staff, clients, and families rightly expect – most of all from a Christian institution.
There are a range of reasons for this situation, but the overriding reason is that we live in a society which over rewards CEO’s and those who work in industries that ‘produce wealth’ like finance, mining, construction, and real estate, and grossly under rewards those who work in caring industries, of which aged care appears to be the bottom of the pile.
At least two decades ago, when aged care wages were between $13 and $18 dollars an hour I made representation to various senior federal members of parliament – to no avail. In exasperation I said to one senior member of the parliament whose mother was in residential aged care, “does it seem right to you that the person who comes to clear your blocked kitchen sink is paid $60 per hour while the aged care nurse who feeds, washes and generally cares for your mother is paid $15 per hour”. Now, I am not wishing to challenge plumbers, simply to make the point that our society has a very unbalanced way of rewarding value for service.
It is quite scandalous that this situation has been permitted to exist for so long. Trained Aged Care staff exist on an annual salary well below $50,000. The totally incompetent federal minister for aging is enjoying an annual salary in excess of $350.000 + expenses. Some CEO’s enjoy benefits 100 times higher than the lowest paid in their workforce.
The problem extends well beyond aged care service delivery, it goes to the heart of how real worth is valued and rewarded in a neo-liberal capitalist society. In this society, our society:
An insane expenditure is being outlaid to purchase submarines for delivery in two decades, the rationale being they are to protect our way of life. Leaving aside numerous unresolved questions such as: will they ever be delivered, what is likely to be the final cost, will they work when delivered, and by then will they serve any useful purpose; the real question is, what is the quality of life we are wishing to defend? Are we wishing to defend a way of life in which gross inequity is an accepted norm? Are we wishing to defend a way of life in which it is the role of the poor to serve the care needs of all? Are we wishing to defend a way of life in which care needs are largely met by those on short term visas from developing countries in Asia and the Pacific because no Australian is prepared to work for such little reward?
The Guardian reports: “The Coalition has been sitting on a major report into the state of the care workforce in Australia since September last year and is refusing to make the report public”. The National Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton was tasked by prime minister Scott Morrison in March 2021 to undertake an in-depth study on the factors affecting the supply and demand of care workers.
The report set out to examine the needs of the care and support workforce for aged, disability, veteran and mental health care, looking at “near term” and longer-term needs to 2050. Submissions closed in the middle of last year and the report was delivered to the employment minister, Stuart Robert, in September.
We simply cannot find it acceptable for those in caring industries to be treated so badly, and for those who have a vocation of service rather than an ambition for wealth to be taken advantage of, especially when monies are freely spent rewarding self interest in those well connected.