“Anyone at any time can become a carer – it is rarely a choice,” Carers Australia acting CEO, Melanie Cantwell says.
“We are seeking a commitment in the election by all parties to lay the foundation to appropriately recognise and value the carers who underpin our health, aged care, disability care and social support systems.
“These commitments should include economic and financial security, equitable access to respite care, strengthening recognition and accountability within government for carers, and committing to individual advocacy and navigation support for carers.”
Thirteen years on from release of the 2009 Who Cares…?: Report on the inquiry into Better Support for Carers by the House of Representatives Committee, carers are still not adequately embedded within reform processes, highlighted by the work of the Aged Care Royal Commission, Productivity Commission inquiry into Mental Health and Disability Royal Commission.
“The demands on carers are only going to increase,” Cantwell says.
“We want to work with all parties to embed carers within reform processes now and into the future so that this demand can be met, while at the same time carers are able to look after their own wellbeing and enjoy the same benefits and opportunities as all Australians.”
The first National Carer Wellbeing Survey, undertaken in 2021, revealed Australia’s carers were two-and-a-half times more likely to have low wellbeing than the general population, and more than half of carers surveyed (52.1 per cent) fear they may not be able to continue their caring role.
“Carers have much higher psychological distress compared to the average Australian, yet there are not significant targeted federal government funds to support carers’ mental health and wellbeing,” Cantwell says.
“The same survey revealed that only 19 per cent of carers could easily organise support from a family member or friend if they were unwell or needed a break.
“This has only worsened with COVID impacting on availability of those alternate support people.”
This means there is an urgent need to address access to respite care for carers, according to Cantwell.
“Equitable and timely respite would mean carers could, if they chose to, increase their participation in paid work or education, delivering better outcomes for community and government as they maintain and thrive in their caring role,” she says.
“We also want to see specific mental health and wellbeing supports funded for carers in the 2022-23 Budget, including the ability for the National Carers Network to appropriately address local needs and gaps through tailored and flexible services and activities.
“This is essential during the ongoing pandemic and recovery, and to supplement Carer Gateway initiatives, and COVID-19 mental health supports that are not carer-specific.”
While the Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Commonwealth) formally acknowledges the valuable social and economic contribution of carers in Australia, the last National Carers Strategy lapsed in 2014.
“Recognition of carers in providing support and care is even more crucial in the ongoing pandemic and for the recovery processes to follow, and must focus on carer reform across ministerial portfolios including education, employment, health, aged care, disability care, and digital literacy,” Cantwell says.
“This is why we are calling for Government to name a Minister for Carers to lead a whole-of-government approach to carer recognition, inclusion, and support, as well as a Commissioner for Carers to lead development of a new National Carers Strategy.”