Australia lagging behind in aged care expenditure

Morgan Liotta

24/01/2020 2:45:53 PM

The country’s carer entitlements are also sitting at one of the lowest rungs, new research has found, prompting calls for improvements.

Elderly woman facing window
An increase in aged care spending is vital for maximising independence and quality of life for older people and supporting their carers.

As part of a report prepared for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, researchers at Flinders University examined systems in 22 countries – which were found to easily outspend Australia in providing high-quality aged care, including a focus on providing assistance within the home environment and support for carers.
Australia spends around 1.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on aged care, placing it towards the bottom of all the countries examined. Denmark and Sweden were noted as having some of the highest quality long-term aged care systems, with government spending more than 4% of GDP.
Support for carers ranked low in Australia, where employees are only entitled to 10 days of carer’s leave for each year of employment. This is combined with sick leave entitlements.
People taking time off work to care for older relatives in Japan and Austria are entitled to up to three months of paid leave per year, with 36 days per year in Italy.
The report revealed other countries use a range of strategies to support older people’s independence to remain at home, rather than moving to a residential aged care facility (RACF).
In Denmark, for example, family members can be registered as care workers and receive a salary.
Enhancing employee leave provisions and financial support for family and friends who provide ‘informal care’ is a key area for improvement, researchers highlighted.
Australia has a relatively high number of informal carers when compared with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries – around 28% of Australians aged over 65 receive care from family and friends, compared to around 18.4% in England, 17.5% in Germany, and 13.4% in Sweden.
These findings have prompted calls for more professional help for people at home, with latest figures showing, that as of December 2019, 112,237 people are on the wait list to receive home care packages.
The Australian Government recently committed funding for improvements in the sector, including increasing home care packages, following the royal commission’s call for immediate action.
‘We believe that Australia could provide higher levels of support for informal carers, which is important in helping older people to remain living in the community, in their own homes,’ Flinders University Senior Research Fellow Dr Suzanne Dyer said.
According to the report, Australia also scored poorly in relation to a number of other comparisons:

  • Lower levels of total staffing and nurses employed in RACFs
  • People receiving assistance reported the highest level of dissatisfaction with the care provided
  • The percentage of older people who experienced cost-related problems in accessing healthcare was the second-highest
  • Around 45% of Australia’s long-term care recipients are in RACFs, while most other countries support a greater share of such recipients through home and community care
  • Almost 20% of people aged 80 and over were living in RACFs, compared to 14.6% in New Zealand, 7.4% in Japan and 6.1% in the US
The report highlights the need for a social, as well as economic, aged care system, calling for increased support for informal carers, home care packages and financial assistance.
With AAP.
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