Are carers receiving the financial support they need?

More and more people are taking time out to care for their older parents, so should there be a new type of leave or government allowance to support them?

Are carers receiving the financial support they need?

Too many informal carers have to choose between giving their older mum or dad the care they need and dropping out of the workforce. ShutterstockMelanie Zeppel, Macquarie University; Lukas Hofstätter, Macquarie University; Petra Graham, Macquarie University, and Sze Ming Loh, University of Sydney

Carers’ advocates are urging a rethink of the way we support middle-aged Australians caring for ageing parents.

Sydney-based organisation Your Side, which supports older people and their carers, has called for a new type of leave – similar to paid parental leave – to ease the burden on carers and help them stay in the workforce.

While the details are yet to be fleshed out, the idea has merit and could alleviate some of the problems with our current system, which relies on informal carers, many of whom are stressed and struggling financially.

Read more: Confused about aged care in the home? These 10 charts explain how it works

Who are the carers?
Australia has 2.65 million informal carers who provide unpaid help or supervision to people with a chronic condition, disability, or those aged 65 or older. About 57 per cent of informal carers are women and more than two-thirds are 45 or older. In 2015, almost half a million informal carers in Australia were of working age.

While caring can be fulfilling, it can significantly impact workforce engagement and career trajectories. The most common impacts are reduced working hours and leaving employment altogether. This can reduce the carer’s income, assets and superannuation, placing them at risk of financial hardship and poverty.

Impacts are felt most severely by people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, young people and women, especially if they’ve already taken time time out of the workforce to raise children, as recently demonstrated by Annabel Crabb.

Women are disproportionately impacted by caring responsibilities. Myibean/Shutterstock

Lost income and taxes
When otherwise productive Australians drop out of the workforce, this costs the government through lost taxes and increases in welfare payments.

A recent study by GenIMPACT at Macquarie University estimated that nationally, the income lost to informal carers leaving the workforce was A$3.58 billion in 2015. This is projected to grow by 49 per cent, to A$5.33 billion, in 2030.

The difference in income between those working full-time and those out of the workforce due to informal caring was estimated at A$936 per week in 2015 (A$48,000 a year), rising to A$1137 (or A$59,000 a year) in 2030.

And carers who leave their jobs are unlikely to return after their care-giving period ends.

Read more: Here's how much it would cost the government to pay everyone who takes care of family with mental illness

Carers’ leave would enable longer workforce participation, increasing both income and taxes paid, one of the federal treasurer’s goals.

What are the psychological impacts on carers?
Many informal carers, particularly those out of the workforce, experience isolation, increased mental stress and high levels of psychological distress.

A study from Carers Queensland found 30 per cent of carers felt socially isolated and 39 per cent have chronic anxiety.

Government-subsidised aged care services are available to older Australians, but these services don’t necessarily enable carers to work. In many cases they’re not available when and where a carer needs them.

Carers’ leave could improve not only carers’ financial stability, but also their mental health, reducing isolation.

Isn’t carers’ leave already available?
Employed carers are already entitled to some carers’ leave. This allows them to take time off work to care for a family or household member. But this often comes out of an employee’s sick leave, which is taken a day at a time.

While informal carers have the right to request flexible working arrangements, employers can still say no on reasonable business grounds.

Many workers are only able to take the carers’ leave that comes out of their sick leave to look after ageing parents. Toa55/Shutterstock

Some large organisations, including universities, already have carers’ leave, in addition to sick leave. This allows staff to take time off (days or weeks) to care for family members and then return to work, without needing to leave the workforce. This is the model an expanded carers’ leave scheme should emulate.

What are the solutions?
Multiple strategies are needed to solve problems of workforce participation for informal carers. These include:

1) increasing carers’ awareness of their existing entitlements to carers’ leave and flexible work

2) expanding these provisions to accommodate longer periods of leave, either with government or employer support, using the parental leave model. The details of such a scheme, including eligibility and the amount of leave, would need to be developed

3) improving funding and access to aged care services, including home care packages and

4) encouraging innovation in the workplace through flexible working arrangements and a culture supportive to carers. This can boost productivity of care-giving employees and reduce staff turnover.

Introducing longer periods of carers’ leave, similar to parental leave, could better support people with ongoing caring responsibilities to stay in the workforce in the longer term.

This could allow informal carers to support the older person to transition into residential aged care, to recover from a hospital admission due to an age-related illness or fall, or to set up longer-term caring arrangements within the family.

Read more: How to check if your mum or dad's nursing home is up to scratch

Caring for an ageing parent could therefore result in a relatively short break from a long and productive career, rather than being a trigger for leaving the workforce.The Conversation

Melanie Zeppel, Senior Research Fellow, Macquarie University; Lukas Hofstätter, Honorary Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University; Petra Graham, Senior Research Fellow, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University, and Sze Ming Loh, Clinical Lecturer, Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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    Chris B T
    27th Mar 2020
    At this time with this Covid 19 Virus and Confusion Under Reporting. Than Allowing entry to Australia without Government Controlled Isolation/Quarantine like Christmas Island and Northern Territory. Should have been Mandatory or stay where you were. Just like Singapore did as soon as they knew of the Virus.
    Much safer for Love ones to be in your Care, at least you know where you have been.
    Not to mention Staffing Ratios, could severely compromised at very short notice.
    I'm lucky not to have a in care Love one at this Time.
    There are Plenty of Out of Work People, make use of them where you can.
    Chris B T
    27th Mar 2020
    This would allow for some time off for carer, not other wise would have been available .
    Don't know where you would go, just some me time.
    Just a thought, even a few hours better than nothing.
    29th Mar 2020
    Good points, Chris. Isolation or stay in place should have been in from Day One. It breaks my heart that some of the kids on their victory lap have been caught in exotic locations I can only dream of. They'll just have to tough it out, same as Boomers did many times, though not generally during a luxury tour.

    I recall going to a travel agent to organise the Pension Train - and there were two girls there just about to finish high school - they were forced to decided between Thailand or somewhere else.... chees! Wish I'd had their parents!

    And yet many on that luxury run built by Boomers have stuffed it....
    29th Mar 2020
    The figures have been done times many.... 80 hour fortnight - $132 = $1.61/hour.

    You can't get a home care attendee for less than the high $20s - and that's the pay for the attender, not the overarching company, so double plus would be around $60 an hour -and many are higher.
    29th Mar 2020
    I may have to give up one of my days of my part time work, as now I have 2 parents to care for and my sibling now has full time work so he can't help out as much. I don't have other people who can help me. I am the only on with a car so I will need to run around to do all the grocery shopping, take parents to medical appointments etc. So, I think yes, more financial assistance is required. I am also concerned that I will lose my job if I ask to work one day less.
    29th Mar 2020
    no carers arent getting the help we need, I have cared for 4 family members ( I currently still care for one of them ) with no support financially or otherwise, the carer pittance is currently $3.00 an hour. we are supposed to just cop it because " you do for family" , when you do it 24/7 it gets beyond that. I am on a carer pittance with a disabled daughter , all my money goes on rent daughters on bills n food nothing left for anything else , no retirement we arent recognised as workers under australian law i couldnt even get a lawyer to help in a slip n fall because I am a carer, ( he said " because your a carer your not recognised as a worker so there for your work doesnt suffer") well Im suffering now and the tax payers are paying for it. the government/s have a nice slave trade in carers. we have no rights and no means to fight for them . I have tried to organise a strike .......... dont ask what happened. I like so many others are burned out ( I have been driven to suicide several times) united nations has a law about economic slavery but i got no response when i asked them about Aussie carers. Unions wont help because " we arent recognised as workers and dont have a recognised employer the current govt are our employers who cares for carers ??? no on e
    29th Mar 2020
    Oh my, tsime, my heart so goes out to you, very sound like a selfless , a wonderful carer. Thank you for bringing to light what is truly happening....with carers who do not work and as you stated don't get much financial support and how it affects a carers mental health. You are correct...everything goes to food and bills and who cares for the is such demanding hard work. Please take care as much as you can and stay safe!
    29th Mar 2020
    Hmmm... how interesting - the original Dietrich Decision (there are two) declared that a stockman working on a prison farm was still an employee for the purposes of worker's compensation.

    I'm sure out illustrious Carr government in its kow-towing to the insurance 'industry' would have ensured that was a closed loop, which may be why carers are not considered employed for the purposes of compensation.

    'by insurance men who go,
    Check to see nobody is escaping from
    Desolation Row...' - Bob Dylan.
    80 plus
    29th Mar 2020
    Why does this government like to compartmentalise people who are not in paid employment? it would be so much easier and less complicated to have simple categories, retired self funded, retired state funded, home care children, home care adults, special needs funding (disabled, body or mind) etc
    29th Mar 2020
    Unfortunately our government likes things complicated, and putting people through hoops which often leads to the people not getting the help they need, and "saving" the taxpayers money.
    Oddly enough the "taxpayers money" has been paid for many years by those now needing help, and they are unable to access any help mainly because of the deliberately complicated ways necessary to work their way through and most do not have the time or energy to complete the course.
    29th Mar 2020
    My 88yr old dad lives in the the UK and because he as private pension he as no help of the state to look after my mum with dementia. The money does not take his stress away. He said that's ok I'm her husband not a employee. My grand mother looked after her mother and never asked for help. My grandmother taught me how to live on a very small income. I think there is a lot of carers out there who are doing a wonderful job caring for their love ones, God bless you all, family is so important. I go back every year to uk after saving every penny to look after my mum for 3 wks so my dad can have a rest. He does stress a lot and says he's staying alive just to look after my mum. It's all about true love and managing the money you do have. My dad walks to the shops as its cheaper then having the cost of a car. No one cares for my dad and he never complains. They have no other family close to them.
    29th Mar 2020
    Gotcha - I'm the carer with severe cardiac issues and am the only one who can drive. Nobody does the caring for me - I tough it out and just sweep the pains under the rug.
    29th Mar 2020
    Yes well this is all part of being a spouse (remember the bit about rich / poor, sickness/health) or a family. People looked after each other in the past, why should it be a Government responsibility today?

    As for carer leave: parental leave is unpaid for 12months after the first few weeks. So if you want unpaid leave then ask for it. Also if you were to have 12 months carer leave what happens if the person being cared for either doesn't get better or doesn't die? Do you seriously expect an employer to keep holding open a job indefinitely? That is totally unrealistic.
    29th Mar 2020
    PCL? Well - there's a start... same time as PPL.
    80 plus
    29th Mar 2020
    My parents also lived in the UK, but unlike Jan had no problems, the rent in a private house was paid by the local council to the landlord,as was the rates etc, the also received free electricity and gas, both received a full pension and my father also was given additional help as he was my mothers carer along with travel tokens for taxi fares and free bus travel, the lived in Cumbria in a small village not in the big city.
    30th Mar 2020
    It is well known that family carers recieve neither the financial nor the emotional support that they should be entitled to. They are expected to live and die in penury for the crime of loving someone enough to take on a burden that others will not share.

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