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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Talking about Aged Care in the ALP and the Greens

The following article by Tristan Ewins examines the huge deficit of Aged Care services in Australia; and the need for progressive tax reform to fund a radical improvement in the sector.  The author regrets that Aged Care did not seem to have been prioritised by the Greens in a recent survey: but is hoping this will change with a shift of policy by botht the ALP and the Greens.

by Tristan Ewins

 The Greens are to be applauded for their recent web-video putting the case for a reformed Mining Tax to fund social welfare and services, and to invest for the future.

But while the Greens provided a survey asking people which areas they think the money from such reform ($100 billion) should be spent, they did not include Aged Care.  I was upset at this for a number of reasons – all related to the urgent need for reform in that area.

Firstly:  We have an ageing population.  Even to maintain current quality of service will require greatly increased funding.

Secondly: Staff including nurses are underpaid, and there are inadequate ratios. This impacts upon residents’ quality of life – as staff need to turn residents in their beds to avoid bedsores; check to ensure residents are eating their meals; facilitate exchange and communications between residents to ensure they remain socially engaged… Not having enough nurses and staff to check that residents eat their meals can result in starvation and literally a physical 'withering away' so that those concerned cannot even stand up or walk.

Thirdly:  The current funding mechanism is grossly unfair: requiring families to sell or take equity out against their homes operates like a regressive tax.  Yet levying more proportionately from the wealthy and the upper middle class is considered ‘taboo’ and referred to as ‘class war’.

Finally:  There are broader questions of quality of life for these most vulnerable Australians that barely register in our public discourse.  Provision of gardens could provide an escape and a diversity of scenery that in its way could radically improve quality of life.  Private rooms could help maintain a sense of dignity, private space and connection with past and one’s identity which could also radically improve quality of life. In the future information technology could be crucial in keeping residents socially and intellectually engaged.

Furthermore where possible residents should be taken on outings to create diversity and quality of life.  And those aged Australians who would be better suited to lower intensity care – eg: hostels – should not be forced prematurely into high intensity care in order to ‘save a buck’.

By the same principle there must be greater assistance for aged Australians to remain living in their homes – if that is what they choose; and for family/carers’ to provide the necessary support without having to make too great a sacrifice.

When the shortfalls are considered: service quality, the funding mechanism, the wages and conditions of staff – and the ageing population is also taken into account – a figure of an additional $3.5 billion/year to be invested in the system   - is not unreasonable at this point, with 'more in the pipeline' for the future.  Though this should be in the context of a funding mechanism which operates like a progressive tax – and enables investment in the quality of life for vulnerable families, and working class families who deserve better after spending a lifetime paying their taxes.   A more robust mining tax could pay for such Aged Care reform.

 My hope is that the Greens and the ALP will respond to this issue and run with it as we approach the next election.   But the Coalition often takes the votes of many aged Australians for granted.  They should also be pressed to ‘put their money where their mouths are’ when it comes to Aged Care.  The bottom line is that this is a matter of basic human rights – and of the acute suffering of our most vulnerable spending their final years in circumstances of public neglect, dehumanisation and despair.

 If any of you reading this are Greens/ALP members I urge you to take this issue up in your branches and via your parliamentarians.  For the Greens especially – their survey should have included reference to this most critical of issues.  Here at ALP Socialist Left Forum I think we would all appreciate an official response.

And if by some miracle there are Conservatives reading this – I ask them to look within their hearts – to their basic underlying humanity – To confront the suffering and neglect experienced by our most vulnerable aged – and to DO SOMETHING.  

In place of tax cuts instead commit funds for aged Australia.

Tristan Ewins

Around March 16 2012 Daniel Pocock at Facebook argued against using MRRT money this way:

“I definitely think the bias should be on construction of long-lasting public infrastructure. That will create jobs, more taxes, and the taxes on salaries should fund the welfare state. I think it is actually dangerous to use taxes from non-renewable resources (like mining) to fund ongoing expenditures (like welfare).”

To which I respond here:

 I appreciate that the MRRT money isn’t going to last at current levels forever.  Hence I can understand Daniel’s concern about being ‘structurally locked in’ to funding Aged Care or other social wage measures via the MRRT.

 On the other hand BOTH investment in infastructure AND welfare measures are necessary - and using the MRRT money could be part of that picture - using MRRT money to 'free up' *other* money for Aged Care.

MRRT money could also be put in a Sovereign Wealth Fund with the profits from that being directed - sustainably - into Aged Care and other services as well.  The point, here, is that Sovereign Wealth Fund investments could provide a source for social wage expenditure for decades into the future.  But since then that fund would be slow to build up it begs the question where the money would come from for Aged Care now. 

That means there would have to be tax reform elsewhere.  I support such an agenda 100% - raising in the vincinity of $20 billion new money a year for programs like Gonski, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Aged Care and welfare reform.  The question is whether Labor and the government can be convinced of the need for such a far reaching agenda. 

Arguably Labor is now in the position where only a radical policy shift – only a radical ‘delivering of the goods’ – can shift voters’ perceptions and voting intentions.  Radical reform of Aged Care could be part of this ‘big picture’ policy agenda which could turn the tide for Labor again by re-engaging with working class Australia.

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