In our multicultural society, many services like rest homes for the elderly are still provided according to the needs of the majority population. But culture matters. So does food.

Traditionally, the elderly in South Asian communities would live with their children throughout their life. But modern family dynamics have made it more common for parents who need medical care to move into a rest home or to engage home carers to help provide care services.

The problem is that those care services are not attuned to the differing needs of our multicultural society. We need to develop a more flexible system of aged care that will allow a growing number of older Indian-Kiwis to feel at home.

The Green Party has joined with Labour and Grey Power to undertake an inquiry into aged care. This updates our 2010 report, which received 420 submissions. We have just had our third public meeting and it is already clear that our system of aged care is still failing too many of our senior citizens.

A major cause is the government’s squeeze on DHB budgets – there is an accumulated shortfall of $1.7 billion in funding under National. As one person said at the meeting in Levin, “I am going to be blind before I get to see an eye specialist.”

Funding cuts also result in low pay and poor treatment of staff. Entry level carers in rest homes or home care often get the minimum wage, with little or no training offered and no career path. The more experienced staff are not adequately rewarded for their skills and experience, or given proper compensation for travelling to patients.

As a result, there is a high turnover of staff, little training and the aged care sector is not attractive for young people to enter. The good news is that there has been a successful court case for equal pay against the Government, but 16 months later, there has been no agreement and carers have still not gained a decent wage.

There is also a lack of accountability in the aged care system. There are periodic audits for facilities published on the Ministry of Health website, but the system lacks independence and integrity. We need to be better systems for accountability for aged care facilities and home care providers, including feedback from patients.

The meetings have also revealed frustrations about a lack of coordination across government agencies and providers, and a lack of follow-up in cases of neglect or elder abuse. More of an integrated approach would be achieved by the establishment of an Aged Care Commission and the position of a Commissioner as recommended in our 2010 report. This still hasn’t been implemented by the government.

Another issue that I have heard from the public, especially in Auckland, is for rest homes and home care to better meet the needs of different cultures, particularly older people from India and South Asia. Appropriate food is important, as well as access to places of worship and creating a sense of community.

Our aged care system needs to have the flexibility to support culturally-appropriate rest homes or communities where shared care services can be provided. It is good to see organisations like Bhartiya Samaj Trust stepping up to the challenge of providing suitable facilities. We need government to be partnering in these initiatives to ensure that all our elderly can feel at home wherever they are, and get the support and care that they need.

Barry Coates is a Green Party MP from Auckland. Feel free to send your feedback on aged care (or other issues) to barry.coates@parliament.govt.nz.