Want to help women? Pay more for aged care
21 April 2021 at 4:20 pm
One of the most obvious manifestations of our poor attitudes to women is the continued undervaluing of our aged care system, writes Tracey Burton, chief executive of Uniting NSW.ACT.
Remember the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety? After many years of toil and incredibly disturbing evidence, it released 148 recommendations for a complete overhaul of our aged care system.
That report was delivered in March. In the short time since, much to the dismay of those in the sector, the chronic issues with our aged care system have all but disappeared from our TV screens and newspapers.
Instead, the news has mainly been on the government’s “women problem”. That problem is characterised by yet more dismaying stories, ranging from casual sexism and discrimination, to sexual assault and rape – right at the centre of political power in this country.
But guess what? One of the most obvious manifestations of our poor attitudes to women is the continued undervaluing of our aged care system. The sexism and ageism stories are essentially the same.
Let’s look at the numbers.
- 87 per cent of residential aged care workers are women.
- 64 per cent of aged care recipients are women, a figure that increases with age. For those aged over 95 years, 78 per cent are women.
- 90 per cent of residential aged care workers hold post-secondary school qualifications but the full-time award pay ranges from just $21.09 an hour to a maximum of $25.62.
It is no exaggeration to say that the aged care sector has survived mainly on the backs of undervalued and underpaid women who have been going above and beyond their job descriptions to plug the gaps in the system.
The saying “boys will be boys” is often used as an excuse for sexist or inappropriate behaviour. The flip side of that is “women’s work is never done”. We expect women to do the work of caring, the work of loving and we expect them to do it for free.
Look at the situation for unpaid carers. Seven out of 10 primary unpaid carers are women and their average age is 54. Again, the discretionary efforts of older women go without financial reward. Sexism and ageism going hand in hand.
It could also be argued that if we valued older women more, we would care more about what happens to them as they age. The royal commission heard claims there are up to 50 sexual assaults in aged care every week, yet the government is yet to act on the recommendations to tackle this national disgrace.
So, let’s imagine that we do care about aged care and we are happy to spend the money required to bring the sector up to the standards we expect. Where does the money come from?
Yes, the minimum wage for aged care workers, men and women, must be increased. And the federal government needs to boost funding so we can employ and train more workers. The $12 per hour currently funded for 24/7 care, accommodation, food, laundry, nursing, administration and everything in between is clearly insufficient.
But consumers who can afford it should also contribute more. Unfortunately, this tricky subject was not tackled sufficiently by the royal commission. The commissioners rightly focused on a universal right to care, but failed to note that this does not rule out people paying more when they can. People with high net worth estates could surely help to fund their care and use their wealth, not leave the burden to the diminishing taxpayer base of the younger generation.
We need a funding model that goes where the wealth is now: the family home, super and so on and also a plan for where the wealth will be with the post baby-boomer generations, which could look very different.
The government can use the May budget to announce a Productivity Commission process to create the long-term financial model while also immediately funding the major changes needed to kick start reform.
That could include: a rigorous reform implementation body, the wage increases we need now, the home care waitlist cleared, the cost of good care study, more hours for caring, transparency, navigation systems, prevention and reablement.
If we truly care about our elders and our women let’s start showing it. Getting aged care right will make an enormous difference to women – young and old.