Imagine you are a gay man in your 80s. You have lived through the era when shock treatment, lobotomy, blackmail, sacking from your job, criminal conviction and potentially prison, were all part and parcel of being attracted to the same sex.
You are now living with your same-sex partner at home. He is also in his 80s and is frail and needing community aged care package-related services. You both live on the age pension.
You are not out to anyone, not to your relatives, or to your service providers, who are nice enough, but you are not about to take the risk. After all, the aged care industry has not been forced to protect you, so why would you take the risk when you are more vulnerable than ever.
You attend Mature Age Gays meetings, and that’s just about the only place you can really be yourself. Plenty of others there are just like you.
The Government finally passes the same-sex relationships reforms, including amendments to the Aged Care Act. You don’t list yourself on any register and you do nothing to declare your relationship. You never have and you can’t take the risk of losing the support of family members you know to be very judgmental.
Flash forward five years. Your partner is assessed as needing to go into residential care, a devastating decision, but one you have felt was coming for some time.
You have to fill in the five steps to residential care kit, and be assessed by Centrelink for residential care payments and fees.
The aged care industry is still largely exempt from anti-discrimination legislation and there is research showing that gays in residential care are afraid to assert their rights. There is no GLBT aged care advocacy officer you can call.
Centrelink tell you that if you are not in one of a very tight list of defined relationships to the person going into residential care, your house will be counted in to the assets test, meaning you will have to pay much more in fees and charges, and may even have to sell your home to afford these.
You are between a rock and a hard place. Disclose now and have Centrelink come for five years’ back payment of benefits to two singles rather than a couple, or don’t disclose and lose your house, or at least pay more than others with the same assets and income.
As a community we appear to see these guys as weak, getting their just desserts, appropriately punished or even wanting it both ways as I have been told.
When the time comes and the boomers need nursing homes, what steps will we have taken to ensure that no one is afraid or forced back in the closet?
As members of the group GRAI in Western Australia have suggested, the solution to the problem is not difficult, given the political will. It would involve doing two things:
(1) In regard to aged care accommodation bonds and related financial matters, the family home should be an exempt asset if it remains occupied by any person who has used that home as their principal residence (for a qualifying period) while also being the home of the person going into aged care. This should not depend on the relationship status of the two people but simply reflect the fact of sharing a house and the implicit interdependency.
(2) Anyone of pension age at the time the bills become law should be free to choose if and when they declare a same-sex relationship to Centrelink.Â In other words, pensioners in same-sex relationships should be allowed to opt in to the new arrangements at any time without penalty or retrospective adjustment of entitlements.
Simple isn’t it.
info: Jo Harrison is an adjunct lecturer at the University of South Australia. She completed a PhD on GLBTI ageing and aged care in the US and Australia in 2004. She has worked in aged care for over 30 years in Sydney, central Australia and Adelaide.