The aged care royal commission was meant to represent the nadir for the sector and a turning point in the way Australia treated its ageing population but, despite the government announcing a $17.7 billion reform package in the Budget, the situation could still get much worse.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has released an alarming report that predicts that the sector faces a shortage of at least 110,000 aged care workers within the next decade, and more than 400,000 workers by 2050.
The Duty of Care report calls for urgent and immediate action to tackle this problem, with CEDA chief economist Jarrod Ball explaining that Australia had failed to prepare for this issue despite being aware of the demographic change for decades.
“We will need at least 17,000 more direct aged care workers each year in the next decade just to meet basic standards of care,” Mr Ball said.
“These projections are based on conservative assumptions, and the situation may prove to be even more dire than this.”
According to the demographic projections contained in the report, by 2031 nearly 20 per cent of the population is expected to be aged over 65, which is up from around 16 per cent now, which is part of the reason that the demand for aged care will continue to grow.
“This requires a massive commitment from the federal government, the kind we haven’t seen to date,” Mr Ball said.
“We have not come anywhere near the growth in workers we need to meet demand.
“The federal government must commit to increasing funding for the sector to meet the workforce challenge,” he said.
“Investing in workers to provide better care for more people must be a national priority – the shortage of workers lies at the heart of the problems in the sector.”
Australia spends around the OECD average on aged care, but its spending is well below the average of countries with high aged care standards such as the Netherlands, Japan and most Scandinavian countries.
In compiling its report, CEDA consulted with aged care providers, training organisations, unions and academics, and made numerous recommendations that should be implemented immediately to address the dire future for the sector.
These included better pay and working conditions, getting more people into training, improving training courses and investing ongoing personal development.
The size of the potential worker shortage also raises the need for dedicated migration pathways to attract high-quality motivated migrant workers to the sector and investment in technology that reduces administrative and physical burdens on staff, freeing them up for more face-to-face care.
Report author and economist Cassandra Winzar said that tackling working conditions was the first step towards boosting attraction and retention in the industry.
“The federal government has committed to raising the minimum daily staff time per resident to 200 minutes,” Ms Winzar said.
“While this is an improvement, it will only get us to the bare minimum of acceptable care by global standards. That is how far behind we are compared with other countries.
“Aged care workers are already under considerable pressure. If change does not occur now, worker shortages will worsen even as the demand for care keeps growing.”
Health Services Union (HSU) secretary Gerard Hayes told The New Daily that the government was already failing to live up to some of its promises in the wake of the royal commission and that the funding boost announced in the Budget was still $5 billion short of what was needed over the next three years.
“The lessons that have come out of the aged care royal commission are falling on deaf ears,” Mr Hayes said.
“We need to be preparing for the ageing population now. This is your parents and it is going to be you.”
Aged care minister Richard Colbeck accused the CEDA report of underestimating the number workers projected to join the aged care sector in coming years, telling The New Daily that the current level of government funding would ensure aged care standards continued to be met.
“The government agrees that the workforce will need to grow significantly over many years to reach the one million workers forecast by the Productivity Commission,” Mr Colbeck said.
“CEDA has used 2 per cent per annum to compare the current trajectory of workforce growth with the estimated requirements.
“This growth rate is an underestimate, with the estimated growth rate of [the] total aged care workforce in 2021 in the order of 6.5 per cent.”
In other aged care news, the federal government announced $91.8 million in funding to increase the expansion of the home care workforce.
According to health minister Greg Hunt, the home care workforce support program will help administrators attract, train and retain approximately 13,000 new personal care workers by mid-2023.
“The grants will support the employment of 6000 new personal care workers in 2021-22 and 7000 more in the following year,” Mr Hunt said.
“They will ensure new and existing personal care workers have the skills and support required to provide quality aged care services to all seniors who need them.”
Aged care expert Louise Biti, from Aged Care Steps, explained that while there were concerns around the number and quality of aged care staff in the system, more money would not necessarily solve the problem.
“More money to employ more staff is only one aspect,” Ms Biti explained. “There needs to be a focus on employing the right staff with the right skills and aptitudes. Therefore training is key.
“Determining what sort of staff is needed is also important. There is debate around increasing pay levels to attract workers, but most important is the right person with the right skills at the right level of remuneration.”
Are you worried about the future of the aged care workforce based on these figures? Do aged care workers need higher levels of pay to attract more people to work in the sector? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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