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Aged care royal commission: low pay for ‘women’s work’

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has released its second background paper as it aims to get to grips with the problems facing the sector.

Titled Medium- and long-term pressures on the system: the changing demographics of aged care, the paper looked into who will do the care work in the future.

Informal caring – by children or others – is predicted to decline as “low birth rates in recent decades mean that the average older person will have fewer children from whom informal care can be sought”.

A reduced working age population is then predicted to limit the time available to people to act as informal carers, and this could prove costly. The paper found that “if all hours of informal care were replaced with services purchased from formal care providers and provided in the home, the replacement value would be about 3.8 per cent of GDP – about 60.0 per cent of the contribution to GDP of other formal health care.”

An ageing population will also place considerable strain on all areas of the future medical workforce, “forcing the aged care sector to compete for nurses and other specialised labour inputs in a tight labour market”.

The paper said low wages will be a continuing factor as to why the aged care sector may struggle to attract new workers, adding “there is continuing evidence that this low pay continues in part because of the devaluation of aged care as ‘women’s work’”.

This comes in the same week as Labor created a stir by announcing pay increases for childcare workers, with workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor telling the ABC there were “no plans” to extend this scheme to other sectors such as aged care.

Labor Leader Bill Shorten has said that he does believe aged care workers deserve higher wages, but he would like to wait for the findings of the royal commission.

Helen Gibbons, assistant national secretary of United Voice, told Aged Care Insite: “With the election campaign acknowledging the low pay in the sector, politicians must now address how the sector’s insufficient funding has resulted in too few care hours, low pay and insecure work, high workloads and stress levels, long wait lists for home care packages, and difficulty attracting and retaining skilled workers.”

LASA chief executive Sean Rooney told Aged Care Insite that action is needed now.

“The changing needs and expectations of older Australians mean that investment in aged care workforce development, potentially including increased pay, must be a high priority for the next Government.

“It’s not good enough to wait for the royal commission to deliver its findings. We must get on with making the aged care system better right now. Both the major parties have said little on aged care in this election campaign and we have called on the political leaders to commit to making aged care better for older Australians,” said Rooney.

The paper also highlighted the massive shifts needed to provide care for a future that will see those aged 85 and over increase from two per cent of the population at present, to 3.7 per cent by 2050.

“The total supply of care will need to increase, with large absolute rises being required in the level of provision in each part of the aged care spectrum. At the same time, the structure of supply will need to shift, with larger increases in community care on the one hand and high-level care on the other.”

The paper predicts that as the population ages, fewer people will use long term residential aged care and a greater emphasis will be placed on at-home care and the latter end of residential care due to “the strong preference of the baby boomer generation for independent living”.

“Demand for care is likely to shift from being a continuum that moves from home, into low-level residential care and then, often for only a short time, into high-level residential care, towards a pattern concentrated at the two ends of the spectrum,” the paper stated.

“People will be able to receive the care that they need in their home for a longer period of time and to a greater intensity. Movement into residential aged care will be delayed and only occur at higher levels of frailty than currently.”

The next hearing of the Royal Commission starts in Sydney, on Monday 6 May.

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