The cost of unpaid care

Oscar Wilde is credited with the saying “people know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

These days almost everything is measured/valued based on its economic cost or benefit.

Some would say said that applying such considerations to a contribution to another person’s well-being because of love, compassion, familial responsibility is unworthy and irrelevant.

However, it is important.

Important because as a country which still hopefully values the belief in a fair go for everyone and a recognition of fundamental rights and dignity for all, we must clearly highlight any tangible contribution of or cost to any group.

In this case, it is unpaid carers.

A new report commissioned by Carers Australia and undertaken by Deloittes Access Economics, has estimated the annual replacement value of all unpaid care in Australia is $77.9 billion per annum – an increase of 29% since similar research was last conducted in 2015.

Just think about that for a second.

If every unpaid carer in Australia decided that their contribution in time –  often at significant cost to their personal well-being – above and beyond that most of us are used to, should be delivered by the paid care sector, we would have to come up annually with more than we currently spend on defence to meet the gap.

A bill of just under $1.5 billion per week.

The report estimated that family and friend carers in Australia will provide 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care per week in 2020, with primary carers spending an average of over 35-hours a week in their caring role.

This analysis was undertaken before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. With the imposition of social isolation and the loss of some paid care services over this period, Australia’s unpaid carers are putting in more hours than ever.

Understanding this, Carers in Queensland recently surveyed well over a thousand unpaid carers in our state for the purposes of gaining an understanding of how they were coping with these difficult circumstances and seeing what we could do to help and offering as much online support or referral to care providers as possible.

The report revealed many carers were enduring additional challenges to their mental health because of the pandemic.

The wellbeing checks were undertaken between March and May 2020, with the introduction of the new Integrated Carer Support Service (ICSS) taking place from 9 April 2020.

Eleven regional teams conducted the conversations throughout different areas including Brisbane (North and South), Mackay, Wide Bay, Central, Sunshine Coast, Darling Downs, Moreton, South Coast, Far North and Northern Queensland.

We were touched how many carers expressed gratitude that we had reached out to them during this difficult time. It was clearly the case that COVID-19 had added another level of complexity for so many carers isolated with the person or persons they care for.

A reduction in social support and respite opportunities also increased stress levels . We offered them self-care plans to support their own physical and mental wellbeing and where appropriate, additional support.

The study also showed 24% of carers were home schooling and 52% of those were home schooling children with additional supports needs.

Most carers try to stay connected with their community. However, those who identified as socially disconnected or lonely were offered follow up wellbeing checks on a weekly basis.

Spare a thought for those carers who provide advocacy and emotional support for someone they often cared for many years prior to entry into residential aged care. The understandable restrictions around visitations during this period has caused enormous emotional suffering and despair for them and those they care for.The same is true for those whose loved on is in special disability accommodation.

Unpaid carers are generally the main decision-maker for entry into residential and disability care and almost always one of the key drivers for their decision is the capacity to access the person they care for frequently.

Finally, some key findings and definitions from the Deloittes report;

It is estimated that there are almost 2.8 million informal carers, comprised of around 906,000 primary carers and 1.9 million non-primary carers in Australia in 2020. This represents a 5.5% increase in the number of carers since 2018 due to population growth.

Approximately 60% of all carers are female, which increases to more than 70% when considering only primary caring.

Nearly 36% of primary carers fall within the lowest socioeconomic quintiles, compared to nearly 26% of non-primary carers and 18% of non-carers.

Around 22% of carers live in inner regional areas compared to 17% of non-carers.

Primary carers spent an average of 35.2 hours per week providing care, with 28% spending more than 60 hours per week, while 25% only spend 1-9 hours per week.

In 2020, it is estimated that 22% of primary carers were employed full-time in comparison to the population average of 43%. In contrast, part-time employment for primary carers ranged between 29% and 34% for the age groups between 35 and 64 years old, compared with 22% and 23% for the general population.

Informal care is generally defined as the unpaid care provided to someone affected by disability physical and mental and aged related frailty by a person with whom they have a social relationship, such as a spouse, parent, child, other relative, neighbour, friend or other non-kin connection. This may involve assistance with core activities such as mobility, self-care and communication or non-core activities such as help with household chores or other practical errands, transport to doctors or social visits, social companionship, emotional guidance or help with arranging professional care. As such, many people receive informal care from more than one person.

About Carers Queensland Ltd.

Carers Queensland is a not for profit organisation supporting unpaid carers. With one in every eight Australians caring for a family member or friend, Carers Queensland is committed to providing specialised disability, aged, and carer support services.

For almost 30 years, Carers Queensland has been working to advocate for equal rights, opportunities, and enhanced outcomes for families.

We work within and value our local community, responding to unmet need with care and respect, assisting those who are disconnected through high-quality personalised support.

We are dedicated to making life better. 

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