Op Ed - Work with councils on in-home care evolution

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Victorian councils, through the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), have spent years warning both State and Federal Governments about how the move to marketise in-home aged care would put the strength of Victoria’s system at risk.

As a direct result of the Federal Government’s market-driven aged care reforms Victorian councils are now making difficult decisions about who is best placed to provide services to their communities. But how did we get here?

In-home aged care has traditionally been a central part of the support councils provide to their older residents.

Victoria’s in-home care and support system was unique. For decades, councils delivered services in partnership with the State Government, contributing over $150m annually to what was a robust and high-quality service.

In recent times, the Victorian Government ceded responsibility for aged care to the Federal Government. Rather than partner with councils, the Federal Government moved forward with a service model that prioritised choice and control through individualised funding,   irrevocably changing councils’ place in service delivery.

This ended a partnership that had sustained services in Victoria for decades.

Before the changes to the service system were proposed, nearly all councils delivered a range of services such as domestic assistance, personal care, home maintenance, home-delivered meals and social support groups.

What was the strength of the Victorian in-home care system becomes a weakness in the open market. The additional resources that councils provide allowed for stronger coordination and local responsiveness.  It gave older Victorians and their families confidence in the service. The  marketised system limits much of the additional value councils had built up, ultimately rendering many unable to compete with larger, lower cost providers.

Councils and the MAV have long pushed against these changes, including in our appearance before the Royal Commission into Aged Care. We continue to urge the Federal Government to work alongside local government to ensure services remain of a high quality, irrespective of the provider.

MAV’s call to work with councils, largely supported by the findings of the Royal Commission, were ignored by the former Federal Government. This has led to years of uncertainty for councils and the anxiety for older Victorians we’re seeing play out in the media about where their service is heading. To provide their communities with certainty, a number of councils have read the writing on the wall and are deciding to relinquish in-home care aged care. Many of these decisions have been made over a period of years in an attempt to avoid pressure on the system.

Councils have no say or control over the subsequent providers contracted by the Commonwealth. Despite this, out of a care for their community, some councils have offered to assist private providers with the transition, through support and staff.

So, where to now? Councils are waiting to understand where the new Albanese Government will go.  So far there have been no signs of a change of direction. If the proposed changes continue to be implemented; more councils will be driven to relinquish their in-home care service contracts with the Federal Government.

Councils have cared for thousands of older Victorians and assisted them to live fruitful lives through the delivery of in-home care. Our staff have played a vital role in promoting the well-being of older residents and ensuring older residents have access to the services they need, where they need them.

Every single council remains committed to supporting our community’s older residents, whether that’s continuing to deliver the in-home service or providing support in other ways.

We call on the Federal and Victorian Governments to work with local government to ensure our communities can be confident that they will have access to high-quality in-home care services now and into the future.