Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has announced a royal commission into aged care, saying that there is inexcusable abuse, neglect and failures within the sector. 

It is a big issue for the country because older people make up a considerable proportion of the population. In 2017 there were 3.8 million Australians aged 65 and over, comprising 15% of the total population.  By way of comparison, the proportion was just 5% in 1927 and 9% in 1977.  You can see why it a sector being stretched.

Australia will want to get this right, because the number and proportion of older Australians is expected to continue to grow significantly in the coming years.  By 2057, it is projected that 22% of the population will be aged 65 and older, and by 2097 the proportion will grow to 25%.  This demographic change will flow into all aspects of Australian social and economic life. 

The commission will seek to better understand how widespread the problems are.  Shockingly, the Australian Department of Health currently shuts one aged care service every month, a notable recent closure being South Australia’s Oakden aged care facility following horrific evidence of elder abuse and neglect.  Prime Minister, Scott Morrison commented:

“The evidence shows that the problems are not restricted to any one part of the aged-care sector, whether it is for profit or not for profit, large or small facilities, regional or major metropolitan.”

The royal commission will investigate residential, home and community aged care, which includes home support packages and services such as social support and meal delivery. About 1.3 million Australians access these services each year, including 240,000 people in residential care. It will cover the future challenges and opportunities for delivering aged care services in the context of changing demographics, including in remote, rural and regional Australia

The chief executive of Cota Australia, the peak advocacy body for millions of older Australians, welcomes the royal commission but says the government must also focus on implementing recommendations from the string of inquiries over recent years.  These include a new Quality and Safety Commission, funding for even more high-level home care packages and a strategy to improve the quality and sustainability of the aged care workforce to appropriately meet current demand.

Australian men aged 65 can expect to live another 20 years and women another 22 years, so there is a lot of life after 65!  It is important that we do our best to ensure the dignity of people as they grow older.  We, and our parents and children, will all be there one day, and may in the vulnerable position of dependent care.  

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...