The 2019 budget contains little to improve the circumstances of the poorest older women. Increases of 10,000 previously announced home care places are provided for. An extra 13,500 residential places were provided. A new $8.4 million is allocated to mandatory reporting against quality indicators in residential aged care. Tax changes are of little use to older women living on pensions. One-off energy payments of $75 for an individual or $125 for a couple will reach pensioners and carers. An elder abuse hotline allocation of $18m is re announced. Over ten years $185m will be allocated to establish a dementia, ageing and aged care research program. The crisis in housing affordability, unaffordable rents and homelessness among older women is not addressed.
Between the 2011 and 2016 Census, the number of women aged 55+ experiencing homelessness rose by 31%. Increasing numbers of older women cannot afford private rent and face homelessness. The Commonwealth Rent Allowance, the only specific financial assistance available to female age pensioners, was not increased. Virtually no properties on the commercial rental market can be afforded by older women aged pensioners without assets.
Social or public housing has long waiting lists—60,000 in NSW alone. Waiting time is up to ten years. Public housing estates have been allowed to deteriorate and are often unsafe for older women.
Housing from community housing providers is the only option saving poor older women from homelessness. Community providers manage only a fraction of the number of units needed. There was no increase in the budget to provide capital directly to or to subsidise rents for community housing providers.
National data still being collected but it appears one in ten older people are abused. More older women than older men are affected. The budget allocated $18 million for a national hotline and other relevant services.
Most aged care residences are understaffed. The aged care workforce is undertrained, especially in relation to dementia. Care staff are undertrained. Providers are not required to employ trained nurses. GPs are reluctant to visit residences because of absence of qualified staff and inadequate Medicare payments. The budget failed to address any of these issues.
Home based aged care is the preferred option, but this sector experiences the same problems of untrained or poorly trained staff.
Service providers are not available in many regional and remote areas. The current shortfall in at home care packages exceeds 100,000. Waiting time after assessment can be up to three years. No new funds were allocated for extra packages and the issue of training for aged care staff was not addressed.
Following the 2019 budget the situation of poor older women remains a national crisis.
Susan Ryan was a minister in the Hawke cabinet and Age Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission 2011 -2016.
This post is from the NFAW’s budget analysis, gender lens on the budget 2019.