Stakeholders react to reform delay

Mixed reactions followed Tuesday’s budget announcement that home care reforms would be postponed for a second time.

Mixed reactions followed Tuesday’s budget announcement that home care reforms would be postponed for a second time.

The Support at Home Program – initially scheduled to kick in on 1 July this year but delayed until 1 July 2024 – has been pushed back a further 12 months to 1 July 2025.

Meanwhile, existing grant arrangements for the Commonwealth Home Support Program will be extended for 12 months to 30 June 2025.

Tom Symondson

“Whilst this will clearly be disappointing to many, we would much rather delay implementation for 12 months and get the new scheme right,” said Tom Symondson, chief executive officer of the Aged & Community Care Providers Association.

“We have long been concerned that too much remains to be done to deliver the new scheme in 2024. However, we do not want to see further delays, so we are keen to work with government to ensure that this new deadline is met.”

A 12-month delay on implementing home care reforms showed the federal government is listening to the concerns of the aged care sector, said HammondCare chief executive Mike Baird.

Mike Baird

“Aged care providers are under stress adapting and implementing more changes in the last 12 months than ever before in the sector’s history … placing a pause on these home care changes will give providers some breathing space.”

Jason Kara, aged care director at Catholic Health Australia – the peak body representing Catholic providers of health, community and aged care services – was also pleased the government had paused the Support at Home Program.

“The Albanese Government and Aged Care Minister Anika Wells have demonstrated a real willingness to listen and engage with all stakeholders … the extra year was critical to ensure that the new system would provide quality, sustainable services that support people to remain in their own home for longer,” said Mr Kara.

Patricia Sparrow

However, with a need for “far greater reform in aged care,” Council of the Ageing Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said: “..it’s disappointing that the creation of the new Support at Home Program has been delayed yet again in the budget.”

A new Aged Care Taskforce will be established to – among other things – inform the final design of the Support at Home Program.

“We look forward to the new Aged Care Taskforce taking action to deliver the next set of fundamental reforms, particularly ensuring a rights-based system, self-management, improved support at home, sustainability and increased transparency in the sector,” said Ms Sparrow.

Craig Gear

The postponement of Support at Home was also a disappointment for Craig Gear – CEO of the Older Persons Advocacy Network.

“Frankly, this delay risks perpetuating the service gaps that older people are currently experiencing. Adequate home care is what older people deserve, and they shouldn’t have to wait for it.”

For the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association, the 12-month delay came as no surprise.

“The government was rightly criticised for not providing details of what it was planning for its long-time-coming Support at Home Program,” said CPSA policy manager Paul Versteege. “It now seems the detail was simply not available even to itself. It seems the government does not know how it is going to squeeze the larger CHSP into the corset of the much smaller HCPP [Home Care Packages Program].”

Also included in the Albanese Government’s second budget, $167 million to fund the release of an additional 9,500 home care packages.

With long waiting lists for home care packages, Ms Sparrow said: “It is good to see an increase of 9,000 home care packages and the foundations for a new home care program being laid with work continuing on a single assessment system.”

While welcoming the move, Mr Gear said: “they need to be targeting the right levels of support required, in the right locations, with the right enabling workforce.”

Fully funded pay rise

As previously announced last Thursday, the federal budget includes $11 billion to fund the 15 per cent workers’ pay rise.

“Aged care workers have been undervalued and underpaid for too long,” said Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler. “We are supporting a wage increase for them because it’s the right thing to do.”

In a Twitter post, Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells said aged care workers deserved “every cent”.

The pay increase “will help to make aged care a more attractive sector to work in,” said Mr Symondson.

More than 250,000 aged care workers – across both residential and home care – will receive the pay rise from 1 July. The increase, said Mr Symondson “is incredibly welcome and represents a crucial step in building and strengthening our workforce after a very challenging few years.”

Mr Kara said the pay rise was “much deserved” and staff would now “feel valued and respected”.

“This changes the negative narrative that has been dominating he aged care sector. It’s an excellent first step toward improving attraction and retention of aged care staff.”

Ray Scott

Speaking to Community Care Review, aged care lead partner of consultancy firm RSM Australia Ray Scott said the 15 per cent pay rise was a welcome “first step” in addressing staff shortages – but more action was needed.

“While this is what the sector was expecting, it is still well short of what is required to ensure the sustainability of providers in the sector that needed further support to meet the demands of the rapidly ageing population.”

Peak social advocacy organisation Anglicare Australia said, by handing aged care workers a pay rise, the government had not just talked the talk, but walked the walk.

“This government has put its money where its mouth is by fully funding an aged care pay increase,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers. “This move recognises the importance of older people by recognising the crucial work that aged care workers do.”

Graeme Prior

Deputy chair of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council Graeme Prior said the workforce initiatives announced in the budget recognised the “significant contribution” of aged care workers.

“They have put workers at the centre of their reforms, both in terms of demonstrating the critical role workers play and in supporting them with the cost of living.”

The $11 billion pay rise commitment “is a crucial step in recognising the essential work they do and will help the sector to attract and keep workers,” said Mr Prior.

However, he added that cash isn’t the only answer. “The solution is more than simply increasing wages. We must improve career pathways and equip workers with the right skills and qualifications to help them do their jobs. We must help people see that aged care can be a rewarding career with viable and attractive options for career progression.”  

Unions also reacted to the workers’ pay rise. The Australian Council of Trade Unions welcomed the 15 per cent increase for aged care workers “most of whom are women providing quality frontline care to older Australians.”

The pay rise was “long-awaited”, said the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation, but it re-emphasised the need for government to enforce tight rules on providers’ use of the money.

“We emphasise, once again, the critical need for the government to formulate mechanisms which ensure accountability and transparency around these taxpayer funds to guarantee that all funding intended for the wage increase is used solely for its intended purpose, that is, for the pay packets of all aged care workers,” said ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler.

Charles Moore

Charles Moore – CEO of BaptistCare NSW & ACT – welcomed the investment in the sector. “Facing an ageing population and workforce shortages, we know that smart and strategic investments are the best way forward to future-proof the industry and ensure quality care remains available to all ageing Australians.”

He added: “We know that investment in the aged care sector pays off and creates value – not just for individuals receiving care, but for their families, for the community and for the economy.”

Main image: Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivers the budget speech to parliament

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Tags: ACCPA, Anika Wells, anmf, Annie Butler, BaptistCare NSW & ACT, cha, charles moore, cota, Craig Gear, Graeme Prior, jason kara, mark butler, opan, patricia sparrow, Tom Symondson,

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