An Australian senator claimed a few days ago that one-third of all pensioners in Australia were living in poverty. If this is correct, it is a shocking statistic for a developed country like Australia, and a wake up call for professions like physiotherapy, which needs to have a voice in the discussion about the future of aged care.
The Australian online journal The Conversation checked the claims made by Senator Jacqui Lambie, and agreed with her assertion, citing a ‘widely reported OECD Study – Pensions at a Glance 2015‘ which showed that, ‘According to the latest available figures, poverty rates of people aged over 65 were very high in Korea (50%), Australia (34%), and Mexico (27%). In contrast, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have the lowest poverty rates: 2% and 3% respectively’ (link).
In an interview in The Guardian back in June 2014, CSP Chief Executive Karen Middleton argued that ‘the real crucial added value of AHPs [Allied Health Professionals] is not simply in adding years to life, but life to years’ (link), a theme that was picked up at a recent Physiotalk Tweetchat (link).
Physiotherapists have not always seen their profession as overtly political. But few who have been involved in the backwash from the Global Financial Crisis, or who have read about the likely impact of ageing, increasingly chronically ill populations of people, placing greater and greater demands on an overstretched public healthcare system, can be unaware of the risks of leaving the politics of aged care to someone else.
As health systems become more devolved; everyday healthcare work gets taken up by low-skilled workers, family members and friends; and people demand more from their health professionals than just technical skill, there is the potential for the radical transformation of what physiotherapy is and does. Aged care may well offer a paradigm case of how the future of orthodox healthcare will look. But there is a real risk – as with all of the healthcare reforms taking place today – that only those who can afford physiotherapy will have access to it in the future.
Given that all of the social determinants of health are dramatically worse in those living in poverty, there is a chance here for physiotherapists to show some advocacy and use their position to lobby for change.