Commitments on childcare and dental are essential services the community needs, and wants

29 April 2019

ACOSS is delighted to welcome Labor’s childcare announcements over the weekend, and says Labor’s dental care announcement is a excellent first step to extending Medicare to essential dental services for people on the Age Pension and Senior Concession Card holders, but calls for inclusion of people on Allowances and other Pensions as well.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

“ACOSS welcomes Labor’s commitment to inject additional government funding into the early childhood care sector, effectively delivering free childcare for lower income families. Every child has a right to high quality early childhood education and care and finances should not be a barrier. Australia has for too long lagged behind in its investment in the early years for Australia’s children and this announcement would be a great step in lifting access to childcare for children from lower income families.

“We also welcome that the Labor’s commitment ensures government funding goes directly through to the wages of workers. As a highly female dominated workforce, too often, care workers face a lifetime of low paid, insecure work, with the reward of little superannuation, insecure housing and risk of poverty over their lifetime. Government plays an essential role in ensuring that the wages of workers in publicly funded essential services, including early childhood care workers, are properly paid and that workers are protected from poverty.

“Labor’s announcement of a new scheme to assist with the cost of dental care for Age Pensioners will be welcomed by many people on the Age Pension who are currently waiting on public dental waiting lists, or who can’t afford basic preventive care or to get their teeth fixed. This is an excellent first step in finally extending Medicare to cover dental services in Australia.

“However what this announcement highlights is that there are thousands of people on the lowest incomes who are being denied dental services, including people receiving the Disability Support Pension, Newstart or other social security payments. For some of the people who are in the deepest poverty, they will continue to wait, often in pain, on public dental waitlists, to get their teeth fixed.

“We urge the Labor party to extend its dental care announcement to people on the lowest incomes by applying to those receiving social security payments.

“This announcement by the Opposition also highlights the silence from the Government on dental care. We urge the Government to commit to a significant investment in dental care that ensures that all people on low incomes can access the preventive care and treatment that they need.

“More than 2 million people in Australia last year delayed or avoided dental care because of the cost. And people on the lowest incomes were the most likely to avoid dental care because of the cost. Poor dental health is a major barrier to people getting a job and it makes no sense to exclude people of working age on the lowest incomes from extended dental services.

“We know that there are more than 63,000 avoidable hospitalisations each year as a result of preventable and treatable oral health conditions. The lack of a universal scheme incurs a cost on our broader health system.

“People who can’t afford basic preventive oral health care, or who can’t afford to get their teeth fixed experience significant impacts on their lives, including the inability to eat well, work, and be engaged in their communities.

“We need to see a universal dental health scheme that ensures that people don’t miss out on vital public health services based on their ability to pay,” Dr Goldie said.