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Warning bell sounded for the aged care sector

New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services

MEDIA RELEASE, Saturday 12 April 2008

Warning bell sounded for the aged care sector in New Zealand

Lin Hatfield Dodds, a leader in the aged care and social service sector in Australia, has sounded a warning bell for those who provide services to older people in New Zealand that the same pressures that apply in Australia could also lead to a crisis point in the provision of aged care here.

Speaking at ‘Justice and Compassion in Action’, a two-day conference held by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) in Napier on 10-11 April, Lin Hatfield Dodds warned that pressures on the capacity of equitable and sustainable residential care to cope with a rapidly ageing population could see a widespread failure of the sector.

“This would then have direct consequences for the acute health system and people’s quality of life if older people are forced into hospital beds,” said Dodds. “Our sector is under threat. We have yet to develop a sector (in Australia) that can meet the challenges of our rapidly ageing population”.

Recent estimates in Australia have predicted a funding shortfall for residential capital development between 2008 and 2020 of $5.7 billion. There are already 2.8 million people aged 65 and over in Australia, and by 2047 there will be 7.2 million.

Dodds cited a 2007 survey that indicates a severe downturn in the financial viability of care homes in Australia with over 80 percent running a deficit. She also referred to facilities that cannot operate at full capacity due to staffing shortages and evidence that in some care homes residents were receiving as little as one hour of care a day.

Dodds is the National Director of UnitingCare Australia, an organisation made up of 400 community service agencies that provide services to over 2 million Australians, with 35,000 staff supported by 24,000 volunteers. She is also the current President of the Australian Council of Social Service and was listed in the Bulletin magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful people in Australian in 2007.

Looking to the future Dodds spoke cautiously of the social inclusion agenda promised by new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to bring together social and economic polity to build prosperity informed by justice. “We have a new government in Australia who are making all the right noises… Watch this space,” she said.

The focus of Dodds’ rallying call to the NZCCSS conference in Napier was her advocacy for a sector that identifies itself by using the expression “for people”, rather than “not for profit”.

“It is beyond time that we stopped letting others define us as what we are not, and named ourselves for what we are,” said Dodds. “We are not business. The seductive call to mimic the corporate world must be seen for what it is – a challenge to our core identity. Equally, we have a wide reach and mandate but are not the state. While we can and will continue to work with government in the delivery and evaluation of essential support and caring services, in a democracy a social safety net is a core responsibility of the state”.

Dodds urged providers of aged care in New Zealand to continue to advocate for and demand just outcomes beyond the status quo, to stand for inclusion not inequality and to challenge policy makers to meet their obligations – all on behalf of those people who “struggle to live with dignity in the face of vulnerability and disadvantage”.

ENDS

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