Re-imagining the Care Economy will improve lives

The Intergenerational Report, released last week by federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers, reminds us that while we don’t live forever, most Australians are going to be living much longer. And it’s a fact that is giving the Government some sleepless nights.

The Federal Government is preparing for just how expensive a healthy, long-living populace will be. Because if we are to live long, healthy and productive lives, then there needs to be the support-systems in place for that, from health and housing to aged care and the NDIS. And that costs money, which is what the Intergenerational Report is about.

One of the key pillars the Government is targeting to address this budget blow-out predicted in the Report is, according to an article by the Hon Dr Chalmers published this week, a more sustainable and productive Care Economy delivering high-quality services and supports well-paid jobs.

Because the Care Economy encompasses services starting from birth (maternal and child-care services); to health and community care and all the way to death (aged care, palliative care and end of life care), it is the pillar that affects literally all of us.

And it makes sense to make the Care Economy more cost-effective, not just because of its importance to all of us but because – as it exists now – Australia’s Care Economy is also unwieldy and expensive.

There are very few people in Australia, if any, who do not at some stage in their lives rely on one or more of the services covered by the Care Economy. With recent Budget commitments the Government has already flagged its recognition that these sectors are struggling financially, in finding and retaining staff and in dealing with escalating need.

On the back of the Intergenerational report, details on the Government’s investment to build a resilient Care Economy are yet to be made.

However with the recent launch of La Trobe University’s Care Economy Research Institute we have a way to develop evidence-based solutions to fixing the costs and staff issues in the Care Economy.

We are trialling innovations around care workforce, care delivery, care experience and care technology, including the use of AI, underpinned by the social, policy and economics of care, to intersect and synergise these separate care sectors.

Re-imagining the Care Economy starts with rethinking how we see it. As the nation’s single biggest employer – with one in every seven, mainly female, Australians working in it - it is also the fastest growing sector, almost doubling to 15% of GDP by 2063.

Yet, despite this its seen as a welfare sector, a drain on the economy, a cost. When it is in fact a major industry and employer.

As the major industry and employer, we have to pay and treat its employees better. Recent commitments to increasing wages for aged care workers while a significant start, needs to happen across all the other Care Economy sectors. Traditionally people working in housing, aged care etc. are low wage earners. And there is a constant drain of Care Economy workers to better paid industries outside of the caring sectors.

It’s clear that making the Care Economy a better employer is on the Government’s agenda.

It is an important step in rejigging the way we see the sector – no longer seeing these services as part of a welfare system, but as a national, and potentially productive, industry.

But, more importantly, there needs to be a more holistic approach to the Care Economy: one which has the potential to save money and improve productivity, which will trickle down into better lives for Australians.

We need to stop silo-ing areas like health, the NDIS and housing etc. creating a more cohesive overarching sector then would operate with less staff, less duplication and people could be paid more.

The Care Economy, as it exists in this country now, is an unwieldy and expensive mix of multiple bodies and organisations, with too much duplication, with little communication between the silos.

Our Care Economy Research Institute is currently trialling innovations around care workforce, care delivery, care experience and care technology, underpinned by the social, policy and economics of care, to intersect and synergise these separate care sectors. A partnership with industry, people with lived experience, providers, and wider stakeholders will ensure rapid adoption by the market. Innovations in one sector can be translated to all other sectors like early education and care, housing, aged care, health and the NDIS.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Care and Support Economy Taskforce has recently completed public consultation on the draft National Strategy, setting a ten-year roadmap to deliver quality care and jobs across care sectors.

It’s a major first step in transforming our fragmented Care Economy into an integrated ecosystem.

The Intergenerational Report – and its window into our future is indicative of the Government’s commitment to implementing real and evidence-based change.

More about the Care Economy Research Institute

Media Release: Australia’s first Care Economy Research Institute

Scholars profile: Professor Irene Blackberry

Contact the Media Team