Rates of homelessness are rising alarmingly, particularly among Australians aged 65 to 74. The government offered them nothing in the budget, in defiance of the Aged Care Royal Commission recommendations. Jeff Fiedler reports.
Home-based aged care is the foundation of the aged care system. Between 2013-14 and 2017-18 spending on home care packages increased by 60% compared to a 5% increase for residential aged care.
In 2018-19 almost 1 million older people received home-based services compared to just 250,000 being supported in residential aged care.
And in the May budget, the federal government announced funding for another 80,000 home care packages.
Meanwhile the government is blind to, and silent about, the massive increase in rates of homelessness among older people, especially women aged between 65 and 74. Older people can’t receive aged care if they are homeless.
Alarming rates of homelessness
The rate of homelessness of older people is increasing faster than for all other age groups. According to the Bureau of Statistics Census, in the five years from 2011 to 2016, the rate of homelessness increased 12% overall.
However, the rate for people aged 55 and over increased 29%, the rate for people aged 65-74 increased 38%, while for women in that age group the rate of homelessness increased a staggering 55%, more than double the rate of men in that age group.
In the five years since that Census, homelessness rates have most likely worsened, given the enormous increase in house prices.
In their closing remarks Senior Counsel Assisting the Aged Care Royal Commission acknowledged that ‘the aged care system is predicated on the assumption that a person has access to a home to reside in, or sell, to access aged care services’.
Royal commission recommendation ignored
Yet the Budget ignored one of the most important findings of the Royal Commission – the need to connect service systems and provide far more affordable housing if aged care is to be truly reformed for all older Australians.
This is detailed in recommendation 4 of the Royal Commission report that refers to the development of a National Cabinet Reform Committee on Ageing and Older Australians that would, in part, ‘work with housing ministers on options to provide for more integrated solutions to the housing and care needs of older people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness’.
This is such an important element of the report because home-based aged care is the foundation of the aged care system. Yet more and more older people do not have a decent home in which to receive the care they need.
The long-term trends show that home ownership is declining, increasing numbers of people are retiring with mortgage debt and social housing supply has not increased since the 1990s. This has caused a perfect storm of disadvantage for many older people who have not been able to buy a home by the time they retire.
The number of older people ‘on the edge’ of or ‘at risk of homelessness’ in the private rental market is also rising. While affordability is a major problem, so too is insecure tenure and the unsuitability of private rentals for older people.
The private rental market is therefore akin to a homelessness waiting list. A lack of regulation in the private market creates many ‘triggers’ that can cause eviction in a short period of time. The 2016 Census also showed a 42% increase in people aged 65 and over who are paying unaffordable rents since 2011, with the number now totalling 132,301 older people.
Many are just one step away from homelessness if they miss a rent payment, the owner decides to sell, or the landlord denies permission for modifications crucial to ageing in place.
Trauma, stress lie behind statistics
The human cost behind these statistics is high levels of personal stress, trauma, declining health and social dislocation. For many people, this can cause a downward spiral into housing crisis, hospitalisation, premature entry into residential aged care and even early death.
It has been predicted that, on current trends, some 440,000 older private renters will be living in poverty by 2031. Governments must remove their blinkers to the existence of this rapidly increasing group of older Australians if we are to have a truly fair and just aged care system.
So while it is welcome that the budget has increased funding for aged care packages in the home, the government has ignored the aged care needs of older people who don’t own their home and have been forced into rental housing poverty. Such housing conditions can be very unsafe for the elderly and completely inappropriate for ageing-in-place.
We desperately need investment in social housing to ensure all older people can access home care packages.
Governments will therefore be viewed as rewarding ‘well-off’ older people who have housing security over those who do not.