Australia takes brave lead on adult care
I read some striking headlines in April about reform at last for a beleaguered social care system. They confirmed plans for substantial investment in aged care, home care is to be means tested from July 2014, and home care and residential care fees will be capped for a person’s lifetime. Sadly it was during my recent visit to Australia. The recent Queen’s Speech augurs less well for England.
Australia’s society is ageing fast. Three Federal Treasury reports have warned that rises in health care and other costs will soon overwhelm national and state resources. But, as in England, short-term health priorities have prevailed so far.
Then Labour Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, referred the wider issues to the Productivity Commission in 2010. Their inquiry, led by Mike Woods, reported in June 2011 and mirrors Andrew Dilnot’s proposals here. They achieved a similar consensus about the need for a new national system and an extension of charging to use the capital of older people. They rejected a tax-based approach.
Although Australia’s economy is in significantly better shape, the government has the self-imposed constraint of promising to deliver a budget surplus by 2013. The proposed $3.7 billion investment package is consequently eye catching.
Under the current PM Julia Gillard’s plans:
- Home care assistance packages will double to almost the equivalent of £75,000
- Home care and residential care fees will be capped at £40,000 for an older person’s lifetime
- Almost £0.8bn will be made available to employers to improve the working conditions of staff to address the low wage levels
- £180m for dementia investment
- £440m for more residential facilities
The plans also include an independent Aged Care Financing Authority. Service providers will be able to put to the authority what their accommodation is, what it cost to build and what they need to charge to cover those costs.
Australia has volatile politics too. So it is interesting to note the Opposition leader recognises the system is under strain and concedes more means testing and more user-payment are required.
This looks like the kind of brave and mature approach that social care reform needs here.
Andrew Cozens is chair of Carers Trust and freelance adviser on policy and improvement