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Insight Four: Planning for the future of aged care

The Institute for the Study of Social Change report Insight Four: Planning for the Future of Aged Care highlights the need to change perceptions around older Australians and their paid carers in order to meet growing employment demand.

In the past decade, as described in Institute Insight Two, the health care and social assistance sector has risen to be the largest provider of jobs in Tasmania and the second largest economic contributor.

“Attracting thousands of additional workers needed to meet demand for aged care services in the coming decades will require a dramatic shift not only in employment conditions and training opportunities but also in the portrayal, status and desirability of such roles,” the Insight Four report states.

Report authors, University of Tasmania researchers Dr Susan Banks and Lisa Denny, argue that while the economic and fiscal challenges of ageing populations are well documented, there is too little public and political focus on the positives.

Dr Susan Banks
Image: Dr Susan Banks

“The ageing popu­lation and workforce augurs well for increasing labour force participa­tion and employment, and reducing underemployment across Australia and in Tasmania specifically,” Ms Denny, a workforce demographer, said.

Lisa Denny
Image: Lisa Denny

“Growth in new and expanding industries to cater for the needs of an older population will create employment demand in Tasmania, as will replacement labour, particularly in the health care and social assistance sector.”

The report is based on a recent Tasmanian study, led by Dr Banks, which found quality of care and the health of support relationships can be impacted by negative commentary around ageing and aged care.

One of the report’s recommendations is the development of guidelines for reporting on older people and aged care workers, potentially based on the successful Mindframe National Media Initiative for mental illness.

“Chang­ing the way older Australians are discussed in the media is an impor­tant first step in shifting public perceptions about population ageing and, ultimately, enhancing the wider social and economic value of the growing aged care sector,” Dr Banks said.

About the authors:

Dr Susan Banks is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Tasmania and an affiliated researcher with the Institute for the Study of Social Change, whose work focuses on aged care and the participation and inclusion of people from marginalised groups.

Lisa Denny is a demographer and a Research Fellow with the Institute for the Study of Social Change.

Key points highlighted by the Insight report:

  • Caring for older Australians is an increasingly important source of employment and will
    contribute to strong workforce growth in the coming decades.
  • Meeting demand for workers in the sector will require a dramatic shift in community perceptions
    about older Australians and a reduction in stigma around the aged care sector.
  • The care sector overall is the largest – and fastest growing – source of jobs in Tasmania and improving perceptions among those outside and inside the sector will improve care for older
    Tasmanians and general community wellbeing.
  • Tasmanian research suggests that removing stigma can increase the status and desirability
    of aged care roles and improve relationships between carers and their clients.
  • Current discussions around funding models for future aged care should consider the
    community-wide benefits of improving the status of aged care workers and their clients.
  • Research is needed into the service quality and satisfaction impacts of emotion work in
    aged care, to allow this aspect of caring to be factored into funding, training and wages.
  • A strategy to reduce stigma associated with the care sector involving media, educators
    and all levels of government is needed to encourage greater valuing of older Australians and their carers.

Recommendations in the Insight report include:

  • Improved wages for aged care workers need to reflect their skills/experience. In addition, a career path is essential if younger people are to be recruited into the sector.
  • Policy makers, service providers, industry bodies and training organisations need to acknowledge and support the human need for relationships when preparing and supporting workers and clients.
  • Research is needed into the quality and satisfaction impacts of so-called emotional labour1 in aged care, for workers and clients, so this element can be costed. Training and wages should reflect
    the role of emotion and relationships in aged care work.
  • The wider Australian community should be encouraged to demand an aged care model that supports the rights of workers and clients to be respected, and to lead ordinary satisfying lives. As a first step,
    policy makers and organisations, as well as the media, need to change the way older people and aged care workers are portrayed,
    to ensure such discourses are inclusive and non-discriminatory.
  • Guidelines for reporting on older people and aged care workers are needed, potentially based on the successful Mindframe National Media Initiative for mental illness.
  • Read the full report (PDF 1.17MB)

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