Claims by shadow treasurer Joe Hockey that training for aged care workers in LGBTI sensitivity is a “waste of money” and may be axed under a Liberal government has been criticised by a leading aged care provider.

“[Gay sensitivity training is] something individual operators should be providing, not hardworking taxpayers,” Hockey told The Sunday Telegraph this week.

The federal government has identified the LGBTI community as a  ‘special needs group’ under the Aged Care Act in an attempt to improve the support LGBTI seniors receive, as well as provide for increased staff training on matters of sexuality, gender identity and diversity.

In July, the government also announced it would develop a national LGBTI aged care strategy to support the implementation of the Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package.

Ageing Minister Mark Butler said he had acted on the advice of the Productivity Commission as well as groups like the ACON, the National LGBTI Health Alliance and the GLBTI Retirement Association.

UnitingCare Ageing backed the move and have again spoken out in support of the new measures in light of Hockey’s comments.

“The average age of people receiving aged care is 85 years, members of the LGBTI communities who may now seek aged care were around 60 years of age when consensual homosexual acts between men were decriminalised in New South Wales in 1984,” UnitingCare Ageing director Steve Teulan said.

“That means that they have lived most of their lives in fear of prosecution for their sexuality. It is not surprising that members of these communities may have special sensitivities around their privacy, respect for their relationships, and life histories.

“There is a growing awareness in the aged care industry that the LGBTI communities have been under-represented and face fears of discrimination.”

Teulan said improving the acceptability and accessibility of aged care through training of aged care staff was appropriate.

“As with any service to meet the needs of particular groups of older people, training and education is critical. Our community is diverse and we must move with the times to ensure all people are enabled to age with grace, dignity and choice supported by knowledgeable and caring professional staff,” he said.

“The ageing population is a culturally diverse and important group of people – which includes a large LGBTI population.

“We will continue to support the federal government’s initiative and look forward to providing the skills and knowledge our staff require to provide high quality, person-centered care to all members of the community.”

UnitingCare Ageing appointed a LGBTI project officer in 2011.

Last year’s Caring for Older Australians report from the Productivity Commission included specific reference to the challenges facing LGBTI seniors as they weigh up options for in-home or residential nursing home care.

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