Who cares about carers when the market rules?
By El Gibbs, Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 13/11/2014
The work of caring for older people and people with disabilities has never been profitable, so why is the NSW government proposing to sell caring services to the highest bidder?
Under the guise of the NDIS, the entire Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) department is to be "transferred" to the non-government sector. Premier Mike Baird has said that he won't sell off NSW's electricity networks without a mandate from the people, but what about disability services?
While some assurance has been given to workers in ADHC about their wages and conditions, far less certainty is available for the lowly Home Care service.
Home Care is a public service that most people have never even heard of, let alone used. Unlike schools, or hospitals, care services like this operate under the radar. But if you are over 65, or a younger person with a disability, Home Care will organise, and subsidise, someone to visit you at home to help with a shower, cleaning up or doing the dishes. This can often be what helps people live independently for longer.
Care work like this has never been fashionable or high on anyone's policy agenda. In previous decades, women did this work, unpaid of course, as part of their social roles. Single women were expected to care for elderly parents, and people with disabilities were locked up in institutions. More recently, the low pay of people doing care work has begun to be addressed, but it's no accident that childcare and aged care workers are not paid as much as construction and mining workers.
The Baird government's plans to privatise Home Care align with national reforms to both the aged and disability sectors, such as the NDIS. Huge amounts of Commonwealth money will now flow to individuals, who can compete in this new marketplace of care for the best service. And that's the giveaway here; care work is no more profitable now than it was in the days when women were expected to do it for free. What's profitable is the percentages big companies like Serco and BUPA can add into their government contracts, while squeezing care workers and those who need their care. Serco has already met with Treasurer Andrew Constance, the former disabilities minister, to discuss "NSW and the global economy".
So how will a company like Serco make a profit out of caring for people with disabilities? Home Care currently subsidises the cost of the service, so no one misses out because they can't afford it. Serco itself has a rocky history, at best, in delivering these kinds of services. Across the UK, local councils and government departments are taking back contracts from the likes of Serco and G4S, after rorting and expensive blowouts proved the norm, rather than the exception. Why on earth would we hand over support for our most vulnerable citizens to companies with a track record like that?
The NSW government's own report into outsourcing community services said there was not enough information now about what services were running in which areas. How on earth can there be any comparison with privatised care when we don't know enough about the public services we have? That same report also pointed out that some government services have to still be available if "where there is significant risk of service failure to individuals or communities if such services are contracted out to non-government providers".
Instead, the NSW government says that Home Care "will be able to operate in a highly competitive market, which is more capable of improving and delivering services and supports". Really? Where is the evidence that privatisation really makes a service like Home Care more efficient?
People with disabilities and older people are hardly likely to benefit when an essential public service is handed over to the market to squeeze them to make a profit. But that's efficiency for you.
LISA Comment: The UK government are not direct service providers, they fund services. Two of the longstanding service providers are , The National Autistic Society and Mencap, both are very reputable. They don’t run services to make a profit from people with disabilities.
In Victoria, there are many very reputable not-for-profit service providers such as, Melbourne City Mission, Nadrasca, Scope, Melba Support Services, Wesley Mission - to mention but a few.
Efficiency does not mean service level and quality suffers, it means there is more funding to provide services for those doing it tough on waiting lists. In contrast to the bureaucratic waste by government direct service provision.
Extra 1: DHS Victoria Housing Website