How the Australian aged care sector became marketised and the consequences for humanity.
Keywords:critical social work, social justice, aged care, neoliberalism
The Australian aged care sector has been described as a sector in crisis, with the Royal Commission into Aged Care (2019-2020) bringing to the forefront numerous, disturbing accounts of abuse, neglect and substandard care experienced by older adults and their families. This has been linked to the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) which was a catalyst for marketisation and privatisation of the aged care industry, constructing older adults as consumers over citizens. The conservative 1996 government justified this legislation by framing the ageing population as a financial burden, subsequently promoting a discourse that devalues older adults. Market principles were used to further legitimise this decision making, with the promise that competition would drive quality of services. However, this commodification of care shifted the focus from person to task and saw cost-cutting measures compromise quality and dehumanise care. By confronting the current state of this fractured system, we highlight the lack of value and investment placed on Australia’s older adults as a result of valuing neoliberalism over humanity. This article discusses the connections between theory, policy and practice for a nuanced analysis of the systemic issues, multi-layered inequities and key drivers that contribute to the current failures of the Australian aged care sector. Furthermore, it highlights critical social work as a key consideration for the provision of aged care as a social justice issue of ageism, institutional oppression and in order to centre older adults and promote their rights to respect, dignity, autonomy and equitable access.
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