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A glimmer of hope at last?

By John Foster - posted Tuesday, 15 March 2011

After decades of struggle for even a semblance of social justice, some 800,000 unpaid primary caregivers (Carers) of Australians with severe and profound dependent disability, are today cautiously optimistic that significant changes to the funding of disability services across the nation have been moved one step closer.

This follows the release, on 28 February, of a long-awaited draft report and recommendations by the Productivity Commission into the urgent need for substantial improvements to disability care and support funding across Australia. According to the Commission's media release

The draft report - Disability Care and Support - identifies the current disability support system as underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient. It gives people with a disability little choice and no certainty that they will get the support they need.


After endless years of determined effort against frustrating and exhausting bureaucratic and political gamesmanship over Federal and State disability funding, and seeming indifference to the worsening plight of this cohort of now ageing parent-carers, a glimmer of hope has sprung up in the tormented hearts and minds of these selfless Australians that 'things might get better now'. Tragically, the Commission's Report and recommendations have come too late for those marginalised and burnt out family Carers who, seeing only a future life for their adult children with disability tormented by indifference, neglect, ill-treatment and inappropriate accommodation when they could no longer care for them, ended the lives of their dependent loved ones, and then their own.

They are also too late to fix the broken families and the disabling depression forced upon hundreds if not thousands of Carers driven to despair by the bureaucratic and political indifference towards their plight, and the resultant lack of compassionate care and respite for Carers.

Despite the fact that one-in-five Australian families include a relative with some degree of disabling condition (20% of the Australian population), the people who provide around-the-clock personal care and special accommodation facilities in their family home for the most dependent in our midst are, for the majority of us, largely invisible. Precluded from participating in the paid workforce because of their ill-fated social role, the majority of these selfless unpaid Carers are forced into a life of economic hardship and deprivation, becoming isolated in their homes and largely marginalised from mainstream society.

In all, there are some 2.6million family Carers in Australia, the majority providing care and accommodation for family members with various degree of handicap or disability. Latest official estimates put the value of their unpaid labour and support at saving taxpayers $42 billion per year.

Some 70% of family Carers are women who provide 93% of the personal care and special accommodation needs of those for whom they care. This is the result of the closure of the limited number of publicly-funded, purpose-built special facilities for people with high-dependence needs by the various State and Territory governments ...'de-instutionalisation'. The sale of these former State-run facilities - 'privatisation' - and the gradual abandonment by governments of their responsibility to provide ANY future supported accommodation facilities (arguing instead for 'normalisation' and 'community care') forced the economic and social costs back

onto families and communities (cost shifting), regardless of their capacity to pay or cope with such a difficult role, given the extremely limited amount of poor quality, bureaucraticly-controlled, for-profit and not-for-profit assistance on offer to them.


So much for the "nanny state" ideology put about by the anti-social, anti-democratic ideologues in the upper ranks of the right-wing think tanks, big business councils, political parties and sections of academe.

However even with this 'glimmer of hope', the bureaucratic-political nightmare appears to be far from over, with 'interested parties and individuals .. encouraged to provide feedback on the Commissions's draft proposals' either by further submissions or attending public hearings (capital cities only) in April. The final report will then be prepared and forwarded to the Federal Government by 31 July, 2011.

Key recommendations (thus far) include the establishment of two schemes to address the flaws, a National Disability Insurance Scheme similar to Medicare, in that all Australians would know that if they or their family acquired a significant disability they would have a properly financed and cohesive system to support them. A second much smaller scheme would cover people's lifetime care and support needs if they acquired a catastrophic injury from any accident: this scheme would be based on widening and strengthening existing state and territory schemes.

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About the Author

John Foster is a retired former HR practitioner and university Tutor and community activist with an interest in politico-economic relations and social justice.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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