‘Failing our older citizens’: most people willing to pay higher taxes to improve aged care

Royal commission’s finding comes as sector targets marginal electorates in campaign calling for government spending to be doubled

A woman with a walking frame
A survey has found that just 24% of people in residential aged care, and 20% of those receiving at-home care, feel their care needs are always met. Photograph: Animaflora PicsStock/Alamy
A survey has found that just 24% of people in residential aged care, and 20% of those receiving at-home care, feel their care needs are always met. Photograph: Animaflora PicsStock/Alamy

Last modified on Mon 15 Feb 2021 11.32 EST

Less than a quarter of Australians in residential aged care facilities feel their needs are always met, and a majority of taxpayers are willing to pay increased taxes to address the “alarming” underperformance, aged care royal commission research has found.

Meanwhile, the Morrison government has defended its record on aged care funding as the sector launches a political campaign targeting marginal electorates that calls for a doubling of government spending on services each year – to more than $40bn – to fix a system leaders say is “failing our older citizens” and funded to less than half the international standard.

The latest research into aged care services, which surveyed 1,000 people, found that 24% of people in residential aged care, and 20% of those receiving at-home care, felt their care needs were always met.

The survey measures attributes including being treated with respect, being able to make decisions about their own care, receiving care from staff with appropriate skills, being supported to maintain social relationships, and the ability to lodge complaints and confidence they would be addressed.

When asked if their needs were mostly but not always met, the figure rose to 58% for those in residential aged care, and 50% for those receiving at-home care.

A separate survey of 10,000 taxpayers found that 61% would be willing to pay 3.1% more tax a year on average to ensure all Australians have access to high-quality aged care.

The findings were released ahead of the aged care royal commission’s final report, which will be handed to the governor general, David Hurley, on 26 February – an event the sector will seize upon to demand increased funding to address shortcomings laid bare throughout the inquiry.

On Monday, representatives from the newly formed Australian Aged Care Collaboration – made up of peak bodies including Aged and Community Services Australia, Leading Age Services Australia and religious providers Anglicare, Uniting Care and Catholic Health Australia – met with government officials in Canberra.

The Collaboration announced a campaign to target marginal seats and released a report identifying an “extraordinarily concentrated voting block” of 815,000 voters over 55 who live in 15 marginal seats.

The campaign will call on MPs and candidates to more than double government spending on aged care each year.

The electorates include the Tasmanian seat of Bass, which is held by a 0.2% margin by Liberal MP Bridget Archer and where 45.7% of voters are over 55. Also to be targeted are Eden-Monaro, where Labor MP Kristy McBain won the 2020 byelection by a 0.4% margin and 45.6% of residents are over 55, and health and aged care minister Greg Hunt’s Victorian seat of Flinders – marginal at 2.8% – where 50.7% of residents are over 55.

Six of the marginal seats to be targeted are held by the Coalition (six by the Liberal Party and two by the Nationals), five are Labor seats and two are independent and minor party-held seats. Seven of the seats – Gilmore, Cowper, Richmond, Page, Robertson, Eden-Monaro and Shortland – are in New South Wales.

The campaign wants to see an extra 88,000 residential aged care places funded over the next 10 years, at a cost of $55bn. It also wants the wait list for at-home care packages – which has consistently remained at about 100,000 people – to be addressed, noting that 16,000 vulnerable Australians died in 2017-18 while on the wait list for help.

Central to the campaign’s messaging will be the statistic that Australia spends 1.2% of its GDP on aged care, compared with the international standard for similar countries of 2.5%.

Representatives from the Collaboration – which represents more than 1,000 organisations responsible for about 70% of the services delivered to the 1.3 million Australians receiving aged care – see the royal commission’s findings as an opportunity to bring fundamental reforms to the sector.

The Collaboration has already launched a geo-targeted online campaign that directs social media users to its website, where they can fill in their details to send a template letter to their local MP about their concerns.

This year’s federal budget, which will make clear the Morrison government’s funding response to the royal commission, will shape how the campaign approaches the election, and the messages it puts out at the grassroots level.

“Over the past two decades, successive governments have failed to act on more than 20 independent reports signalling the need for major reform in aged care,” the Collaboration’s website states. “We cannot allow this to continue.”

Patricia Sparrow, the chief executive of Aged and Community Services Australia, told Guardian Australia the campaign was not targeting one side of politics. “We have to grab the opportunity the royal commission presents.”

A spokeswoman for Hunt did not answer questions about whether the Coalition would commit to the funding levels the sector is seeking, or whether it was concerned about the campaign targeting marginal electorates.

The spokeswoman noted the Morrison government called for the aged care royal commission, and that the 1.2% spend of GDP quoted by the aged care sector “doesn’t not include the $8bn spending that the government has invested in aged care from 2019-20 to 2023-24”.

Mark Butler, the opposition aged care spokesman, said: “The Morrison government has constantly neglected senior Australians and the aged care system.”

But Butler did not respond to questions about whether Labor would take the sector’s desired funding levels to the next election.