The big question, according to the first reactions, is how things should continue after the two years. Social Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) himself admitted when the measures were presented on Thursday that the continuation was an “enormous challenge”, but they wanted to act quickly. But now the federal government has to negotiate with the federal states and municipalities about the distribution of costs as part of the financial equalization process – a task that is known to be always difficult, regardless of the area.
The measures presented, which are initially financed with one billion euros, will hardly be able to be withdrawn so easily – neither the one week additional free time (relief week) for nursing staff over 43 nor the announced monthly salary bonus – currently dubbed as a federal surcharge. The same applies to the training subsidy and the increase in care allowance for people with severe mental disabilities.
Package of maintenance measures announced
The response to the announced package of care measures was largely positive. Everyone warned that this could only be a first step – the “major reform” to ensure long-term financing had to be tackled quickly.
Organizations are pushing for long-term funding
It is important that the measures do not only apply for two years, said Anna Parr, Secretary General of Caritas, to Ö1. Long-term financing is now the next, very important step. All organizations working in this area explicitly welcomed the targeted investment in staff.
The current plan mainly includes measures that the federal government can influence, said Maria Katharina Moser, director of the Diakonie, also to Ö1. Plans on how exactly the range of care services can be expanded are not included. A further stage in terms of content is needed, said Elisebath Anselm, managing director of the aid organization, also for better control of care and measures for care and support at home.
There are no plans for 24-hour care
For the time being, measures have only been announced for the 24-hour range. According to the ministry, dependent employment in this area is to be made more attractive. However, the government did not provide any details, which are still to be worked out. But here, too, time is of the essence, because the trend towards care at home is irreversible. There is currently a lot of uncontrolled growth and construction sites, for example in terms of ensuring the quality of care and the nursing staff themselves.
The representatives of the federal states and municipalities have already positioned themselves in their statements: Association of Municipalities President Alfred Riedl expects “another major reform” to secure future financing in the long term. Secretary General Thomas Weninger demanded that cities and municipalities be involved in the elaboration of the details on behalf of the Association of Cities – after all, they would bear a large part of the costs.
More salary for employees
The biggest chunk of the proposed reform is a salary increase for salaried employees in the sector, which will probably be paid out as a monthly bonus this year and next. This should roughly correspond to an additional monthly salary. 520 million euros have been reserved for this. In addition, all employees should be entitled to two hours of time credit per night shift in all facilities. All those measures that lead to additional costs are initially limited to two years (until the end of the legislative period).
During training in the nursing profession, everyone should receive a subsidy of 600 euros a month. Those who are switching or returning to work receive a higher nursing grant of 1,400 euros per month (during an apprenticeship funded by the AMS). A nursing apprenticeship is being introduced as a pilot project. This is to start with the 2023/24 school year and will be evaluated after seven years. Another improvement for employees is that the “discharge week” is generally granted from the 43rd birthday.
Furthermore, among other things, a relatives’ bonus of 1,500 euros per year will be created for those family members who provide the majority of the care at home and are themselves or continue to be insured. In the future, caring relatives will also be entitled to financial support for alternative care after just three days (instead of the previous seven days) – if the person concerned is temporarily unable to provide care due to illness, spa treatment, vacation or other reasons.
Praise, but further steps required
In general, the reactions of the care organizations said that the measures presented could only be a first step, albeit an important one. According to the Austrian aid agency, people have been waiting for this for a long time and are pleased “that many long-standing demands from Volkshilfe and other social organizations have been taken up, such as Volkshilfe President Ewald Sacher.
The President of the ÖVP Seniors’ Association, Ingrid Korosec, sees the “start of a comprehensive form of care that will also include sustainable financing and the expansion of mobile services'”. Trade unions and the Chamber of Labor (AK) welcomed the current plans, but they were not enough. “We haven’t reached our goal yet,” said AK President Renate Anderl.
“The measures presented are undoubtedly suitable for contributing to relaxation, even if missed decisions cannot be compensated for overnight,” said Walter Marschitz, Managing Director of Sozialwirtschaft Österreich (SWÖ). Nevertheless, demonstrations took place across Austria as planned, with different reactions to the government package – more on this at wien.ORF.at.