Grandparents in a tough spot

The cost of COVID-19 on incomes, economies and lives in general already runs deep.

While job losses and reduced or lost employment income may have hit younger generations hardest, retirees and those close to retirement have also seen huge losses in retirement income. Nest eggs have been decimated, further increasing reliance on the Age Pension and forcing many to work for longer.

The lockdown has also been hard on families with children, especially if one parent has lost a job or is relying on free childcare to continue bringing in an income to support the household.

So, news that the federal government will end free childcare on 12 July puts many families in a bind: to work and pay for childcare – a situation that is unaffordable for many – or walk away from work to care for a child.

“This could well act as a handbrake on the economy,” said Labor’s childcare spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth.

“If women and families are not able to access affordable childcare, how are they going to get back to work?”

In better times, many families would have relied on grandparents to look after their children in lieu of childcare.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2017 shows that 26 per cent of children in childcare are looked after by grandparents while parents are at work. This ‘free’ care is worth some $4 to $5 billion a year.

And yet, current health guidelines would strongly advise against grandparents being anywhere near kids – let alone being full-time carers.

Some families may not have a choice, which puts grandparents in an incredibly tough position. Do they put their lives at risk or say no and jeopardise their children’s livelihood?

It seems at least lower income families may be partially spared this dilemma.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced earlier this month that once free childcare ends on 12 July, a three-month, $708 million transition support package will be offered to the sector from 13 July.

Parents will go back to paying for childcare, with the aid of the Child Care Subsidy. The government has also said it will loosen the criteria for subsidised care.

“The government will also ease the activity test until October 4 to support eligible families whose employment has been impacted as a result of COVID-19,” said Mr Tehan.

“These families will receive up to 100 hours per fortnight of subsidised care during this period.”

For those who don’t qualify, the grandparents may again be in play.

“Parents in Australia rely more on grandparents than any other form of care today,” senior research fellow at Social Policy Research UNSW Dr Myra Hamilton told 7.30.

“So, I think the changes are going to have a big impact for a lot of families and for a lot of grandparents.

“Grandparents are in the age group which is at one of the greatest risks associated with coronavirus.

“I think families are likely to be navigating these really complex decisions.”

But is it safe for you to hug your grandkids, let alone look after them?

According to federal deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd, there are no easy answers. Rather, it is purely based on the level of risk.

He said that there are three principles to help you decide what to do.

“Take personal responsibility. Don’t break any of the restrictions, maintain 1.5m distance from people outside your household and stay at home if you’re sick,” Prof. Kidd told the ABC.

He added that you should monitor your own health and how comfortable you feel, and make the decision based on where in the country you live and how much community transmission there is in your region.

People need to weigh the risks themselves, said Prof. Kidd, especially considering the people most at risk are aged over 70.

“It may be appropriate to start hugging and cuddling if you’re in a state, for example, where there have been no cases of transmission for quite a number of weeks now,” he said.

“Obviously, if any of the children have any symptoms of a fever or a respiratory tract infection no matter how mild, even if it seems they’ve got a slight sniffle, they should be staying at home, not going to see the grandparents.

“Of course, their parents should be arranging for them to get tested to make sure they don’t have COVID-19.”

When picking up children from school or childcare, grandparents should weigh the risk in accordance with cases in the community, as well as whether it is possible to follow social distancing guidelines.

“It may be more difficult, of course, with the littlies than it is with the older grandchildren,” he said, adding that the risk is lowered if there’s less community transmission.

“We have seen outbreaks occurring in the last couple of weeks in schools … so it’s important that we are not putting people at risk,” he said.

“It may well be that people want to consult with a GP that they know and trust about what is safe for them to be doing at this time given the GP’s knowledge of their health and wellbeing.”

Are you in this position? Will you be able to look after your grandkids if asked?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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