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COVID-19 impacts during 2020

Grandparents reported feeling disconnected and isolated from their children and grandchildren during the COVID restrictions imposed during 2020.

In two surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies during each half of 2020, three out of 10 grandparents said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they provided childcare to their grandchildren at least weekly. Of those grandparents, 14% of respondents with grandchildren aged under 13 years provided child care daily or several times a week, another 16% provided child care about once a week and around half provided care at least once per month.

Grandparent care and care for grandparents were most impacted during the pandemic, with respondents reporting that for many families, grandparents did not provide the usual care to their grandchildren for some months during the pandemic. Care for grandchildren ceased because of restrictions imposed on visiting family members or because parents increased their work from home.

Many grandparents reported feeling disconnected from their family and missing out on family traditions during the lockdown period. While some grandparents were able to access technological solutions to connect with family, others found the technology frustrating.

There were 7,306 respondents in the first survey of whom 6,435 completed all survey questions. In the second survey, 4,866 participants responded, of which 3,627 completed all survey questions. Over 80% were female respondents, tertiary-educated, ranging in age from over 18 years to 60+ years who lived either in a capital city, a major regional city or regional area.

Impacts on caring for others

In addition to generalised fears as to how the virus might affect the physical and mental health of family members, the pandemic forced changes to the availability of in-home support services. Caring hours for family members increased significantly over the year for 70% of respondents, nearly half of the respondents saying they spent over 30 hours per week in relation to child care and home schooling, while about 20% of respondents reported spending over 60 hours per week on caring activities which included caring for a parent or a partner.

Respondents also referred to giving assistance to non-household members which could include friends or work colleagues. This could include giving emotional assistance, or providing help with shopping, transport, house or garden maintenance and sometimes financial help.

Community volunteering was also impacted by the pandemic during 2020 in that in many volunteer-reliant charities, older volunteers were restricted in the types of volunteer work they could do and, at the same time, demand for services from charities increased due to the impact of COVID on employment and income.

Community volunteers were more likely to be older people. Survey results showed that over a quarter (27%) of respondents or their partners had engaged in some form of voluntary work in the past year, including half of those aged 70-79, 36% of those living alone, and 40% of those living in remote areas.

Of those who volunteered at some time during 2020, almost two in three (62%) continued to volunteer throughout the year, 20% volunteered before COVID but had yet to return to volunteering, 6% started volunteering after COVID, 4% stopped volunteering during COVID but have returned to volunteering, and 4% volunteered only during COVID. (The remaining 5% is other combinations.)

Report no. 1: Connection to family, friends and community, Families in Australia Survey, May 2021, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/connection-family-friends-community

Retirement village exit rules changed

New legislation means that NSW retirement village contracts will now include a timeframe that ensures timely payments for a former resident’s exit entitlements.

These changes apply only to registered interest holders with a long-term registered lease that gives them at least 50% of any capital gain.

They do not apply to:
• registered interest holders who own a lot in a strata or community scheme village or own shares in a company title or trust village that gives them their resident right; or
• unregistered interest holders.

New retirement village laws started in January 2021. The changes reflect complaints made about how exit entitlements were previously managed and provide a timeframe for former residents to receive their exit entitlements. Summarised, the changes:
• enable residents to receive exit entitlement money before their unit sells (if the sale has been ‘unreasonably delayed’);
• provide an option for residents to fund their move into aged care by accessing part of their estimated exit entitlement money;
• ensure residents no longer have to pay ongoing charges for general services for more than 42 days after they leave the retirement village (commences on 1 July 2021 onwards).

New legislation has been introduced which affects existing and all new retirement village contracts. Previously registered interest holders had to wait until a new resident either moved into or leased their old unit before they were able to receive their share of the sale proceeds (the “exit entitlements”). This could mean that if the village operator delayed the sale of a unit after the resident left, the former might not receive their exit entitlements for anywhere between two and five years.

Under the new legislation, a registered interest holder can apply to the Secretary of the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation for an exit entitlement order directing the village operator to pay the exit entitlements to the former resident even though the unit has not sold. The order can require payment after six months for Sydney metropolitan, Wollongong and Blue Mountains residences and within one year anywhere else in NSW. This order will only be made if the village operator has “unreasonably delayed” the sale considering the time taken to refurbish the unit and whether the operator as selling agent has performed all their duties within reasonable time.

Such an application can only be made by a former resident but not their estate. If the order is made, the exit entitlement must be paid with 30 days of the order.

If the registered interest holder moves out of the retirement village into a residential aged care facility and has not received their exit entitlement, the resident may ask that the operator make one or more daily accommodation payments to the facility on behalf of the resident within 28 days of the resident’s request. As more than 60% of residents move directly into aged care, their move can be delayed if they do not have access to funds to pay the daily accommodation payments to the facility and the unit does not sell quickly. These amendments are intended to make the transfer easier for residents and family members.

For more detail, see Fair Trading website, https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/about-fair-trading/legislation-and-publications/changes-to-legislation/changes-to-retirement-village-laws

Serious Incident Response Scheme begins in aged care facilities

With the release of the final report of the Royal Commission Into Aged Care, one of its most frightening details is that in 2019-20, over 851 alleged sexual assaults were reported in aged care facilities. However, as resident-on-resident assaults for the most part go unreported, the real figure is likely “as high as 2,520, or almost 50 per week”.

Despite such high statistics, the report’s 148 recommendations make no specific recommendations as to how that issue that predominantly affects older women should be managed.

The issue is expected to be managed by an enhanced reporting system known as the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) that begins on 1 April.

The scheme requires aged care providers to identify, record, manage, resolve and report all serious incidents that occur, or are alleged or suspected to have occurred.

Aged care providers also need to have in place an effective incident management system to manage all incidents, respond to incidents, and take steps to minimise the risk of preventable incidents reoccurring. The incident management system covers a broader range of non-reportable incidents and includes incidents that involve staff or visitors.

Under the existing system, aged care providers do not have to report incidents that involve a perpetrator who has a cognitive impairment and the operators have got strategies in place because it is felt that an impaired person cannot be successfully prosecuted.

“In some cases, family members encourage their loved ones to move into residential care because they felt that it would be safer for them”, the report notes. “But, on the contrary, people living in residential aged care likely face a much higher risk of assault than people living in the community.”

Under SIRS, there is a wider range of serious incidents that are reportable than those reported under current compulsory reporting requirements. Importantly, providers will have to report incidents of abuse and aggression between consumers, including where the resident who commits the incident has a cognitive or mental impairment.

Under the SIRS protocol, aged care must report all ‘Priority 1’ incidents within 24 hours to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. ‘Priority 1’ incidents include those that cause or could reasonably have caused physical or psychological injury or illness requiring some form of medical or psychological treatment. Instances of unexplained absence from care and any unexpected death of a consumer are always to be regarded as Priority 1 reportable incidents.
From 1 October 2021, all ‘Priority 2’ incidents, that is reportable incidents that do not meet the criteria for ‘Priority 1’, must also be reported within 30 days.

In addition, the SIRS requires every residential aged care service to have in place an effective incident management system – a set of protocols, processes, and standard operating procedures that staff are trained to use.

For further information, refer to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission website, https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/sirs

Poetry inspired by Flourish

A collaboration of sewing, photography and poetry.

Winner, Flying Arts Alliance, Qld, 2020ce
Flourish, cyanotype photograms on cotton with thread.
104cm x104cm (framed with Perspex)
Leanne Vincent, 2020.
A Lineage of Ecologies

Each sea blue petal, gathered
in honour of Detritus, was slow
stitch’d into this teeming quilt,
this bowerbird mandala,
this cathedral rose window
in the navy night,
this rock pool in kaleidoscope.
And now the Seaweeds, from
Photographs of British Algae
to whom Flourish is indebted,
wave from their 19th century pages
in a lineage of ecologies.

-Sally Denshire Continue reading “Poetry inspired by Flourish”

New Year resolutions for a lucky country

It’s the start of a new year and it’s the perfect time to make your own resolutions for the year. Lose weight, get more exercise, drink less alcohol – we all know about those. We also know that if we don’t incorporate those resolutions into our daily routine from day one, we are not likely to succeed.

Taking a national perspective – it’s been a year where managing the pandemic has been a world-wide priority rather than taking any positive policy steps. Australia has not experienced the same kind of turmoil as the US or the UK but as we come out of the pandemic crisis, what should be the policy focus for our country? What do you think should be included in the Australian government’s New Year resolutions? To be on their To Do list from day one.

Here are a few suggestions:
• Distribute the Covid-19 vaccine to anyone at risk.
• Raise the JobSeeker allowance by $100 per week.
• Recognise our First Nations people in the Constitution.
• Introduce carbon-pricing for all industries to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2040.
• Implement a nation-wide bushfire emergency plan.
• Close Nauru and bring all refugees to Australia.
• Buy all the empty apartment blocks around Sydney and use them to provide affordable housing.
• Initiate key recommendations from Aged Care Commission in all aged care homes.
• Develop a plan for all coal industry workers to transition to renewable energy industries.
• Reduce the registration costs for all electric cars.

Super in the time of pandemic

Is our retirement system good enough? Superannuation should enable all people to have an adequate standard of living when retired, according to the Retirement Income Review into the Australian retirement system. The system should not just provide a means for wealthy people to become wealthier, with the help of generous tax concessions.

The Review found that two groups have high levels of financial stress compared to people below age 65: those renting in retirement and those who are involuntarily retired before age pension eligibility age. Retirees who rent in the private rental market are likely to live in poverty and those early retirees living on JobSeeker payments are the worst affected. Even with the age pension and additional rental assistance, these retirees experienced higher levels of financial stress and poverty than the rest of the population.

Following 426 submissions and meetings with 100 stakeholders, Treasury has released the Review’s Final Report which makes findings on how the superannuation system interacts with the age pension, the aged care system and the tax concessions that benefit high wealth individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to the livelihoods of individuals and to businesses on a global scale. Less obviously, most people’s retirement savings also have decreased significantly over the past year. Retirees who rely on their super to top up age pension payments remain concerned that their super investments have been affected by market volatility, leading them to worry that their loss in savings will have long-term effects.

Retirement savings and owning your own home are the most important ways to ensure that people have a buffer in retirement. High rates of home ownership in Australia reduces housing costs in retirement and boosts living standards. Additionally, their home is an asset that they can sell to provide a deposit for aged care or for additional funds if necessary.

While the age pension helps to offset inequities in retirement, its “bare bones” level of income does not provide enough to provide for those without other income. In particular, it does little to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups such as women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those with disabilities who have not been able to accumulate sufficient retirement savings in their working life.

One of Treasury’s first observations was that the current retirement system is complex and poorly understood by many people, both before and during retirement. Then more complications arise when it interacts with the aged care and tax system.

The Report suggested some changes to the retirement system to improve its fairness such as:
• removing the $450 per month income threshold before the superannuation guarantee can be paid;
• paying superannuation while on employer paid parental leave, and
• ensuring that all employees are paid the benefits to which they are entitled.

Australian superannuation funds hold $2.9 trillion of assets invested in local and overseas financial markets. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns of businesses and associated job losses, superannuation proved a welcome financial resource for many who had lost their employment. Over 4 million applicants were able to access their super under the Early Release scheme to supplement their wages or JobSeeker allowances. In total $37.4 billion was paid out in the June 2020 quarter to applicants, a 77.7% increase from the March 2020 quarter.

Many commentators were concerned that low to middle income earners who accessed their super early would be severely disadvantaged in being able to accumulate sufficient funds for their retirement as well as making them more likely to be reliant on the age pension. The debate about allowing people to access their super to fund a deposit for a house has not been resolved with arguments on both sides. In my opinion, too many people have drawn on their super in ways that provided only a temporary benefit now, while suffering a substantial long-term loss to their level of super when they retire.

I look forward to the government’s response – will they improve the system for the most disadvantaged people in the retirement system? Much more needs to be done.

Treasury, 20/11/20, Retirement Income Review – Final Report, https://treasury.gov.au/publication/p2020-100554

Sexual assaults increase during pandemic lockdown

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has released its statistics for the second quarter ending June 2020 which showed that recorded incidents of break ins, car theft and retail theft were significantly interrupted by the pandemic response.

The only major exception to the reduction in offences is reported sexual assaults which rose 9.4% year-on-year to June 2020, similar to the upward trend reported in the previous quarterly report.

Sexual assault increased in two of the 15 Sydney Statistical Areas:

Blacktown (up 24.4%, or 71 additional incidents)
Sutherland (up 59.2%, or 45 additional incidents)

Two Sydney regions had a significant increase in recorded rates of domestic assault in the past two years:
Baulkham Hills & Hawkesbury (up 32.7%, or 123 additional incidents),
Parramatta (up 9.9% or 175 additional incidents)

Regional NSW saw significant upward trends in recorded rates of sexual assault in three of the 13 statistical areas:
Hunter Valley excluding Newcastle (up 19.7% or 59 additional incidents),
Illawarra (up 33.7% or 66 additional incidents), and:
Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven (up 63.9% or 62 additional incidents).

Domestic violence related assault increased in the Murray (up 25.1% or 127 additional incidents)

Commenting on the findings, Executive Director of BOCSAR, Jackie Fitzgerald, said the continuing increase in reported sexual assaults was a worrying trend. “It appears that at least some of the increase in sexual assault is related to an increase in secondary and mandatory reporting of child sexual assault. We will continue to closely monitor trends in this offence.”

BOSCAR media release, 2/09/20: https://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Pages/bocsar_media_releases/2020/mr-NSW-Recorded-Crime-Statistics-Quarterly-Update-June-2020-aspx.aspx

Author talk at Dennis Johnson Library Stanhope Gardens

Come along to join in the retirement conversation on

Join Alice and have a retirement conversation.
Saturday, 24 October 2020 at 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm.
At the Dennis Johnson Library, Cnr Stanhope Parkway & Sentry Drive, Stanhope Gardens, NSW 2768

Women experience retirement differently to men. Women generally live longer, have less money and volunteer more than their male counterparts. A practicing lawyer for over 30 years, Alice Mantel encourages making better decisions, giving advice on topics such as:

Inspiring women to make the most of their retirement opportunities, Every Woman’s Guide to Retirement encourages an active, connected lifestyle, staying healthy, lifelong learning, de-cluttering, and even online dating to make the most of this time.