New survey data from Carers Victoria has signalled the significant psychological and financial impact sustained by the state’s 700,000 unpaid carers.
In a survey of more than 1100 unpaid carers, 76 per cent of carers reported increased levels of loneliness due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 22 per cent higher than the general public.
Tragically, 86 per cent of carers noted that their satisfaction with life had declined.
Judith Abbott, CEO of Carers Victoria, tells Aged Care News that there are a number of factors that contributed to added stress on carers during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but there were unique challenges faced by carers, who already had a complex and sometimes difficult role before the pandemic hit,” she says.
“Carers weren’t just worried about their own wellbeing, they were stressed about reducing the risk of transmission to the person under their care, as well as having to rapidly adapt to take on new duties and transfer to new services.
“But they were also faced with the expectation to provide clinical care themselves.”
Such an enduring commitment to their elder’s care largely results in a carer neglecting their own wellbeing.
While carers of older Australians note cost as an important barrier to addressing their own healthcare, between 20 and 40 per cent cite being ‘too busy’ or ‘not having enough time’ to access dental, GP and medical specialist services.
Furthermore, a 2021 study analysing data from the 2015 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that 35 per cent of carers of older Australians cited at least one unmet need for support, with the most unmet needs pertaining to, in order of prevalence; financial, physical and emotional needs.
One anonymous male carer told Carers Victoria that the psychological pressure was so immense during the COVID pandemic, that it felt akin to ‘carrying an elephant, bare-footed and uphill on a never-ending track full of thorns’.
In response to these startling findings, Abbott expresses her sympathy, recommending cares take advantage of the resources offered by both Carers Australia and the government-funded Carer Gateway service.
“First and foremost, we want carers to know that they are not alone. We see you, we hear you, and want to make sure that you are supported,” she says.
“Some practical pieces of advice include eating well, getting enough sleep, and incorporating a lot of exercise into your daily routine – that dopamine release is a really good thing.”
“Also, we encourage carers to consult with their local GP, where they can develop a mental health plan.”
Carers Victoria offers a Carer Support Group directory for those who wish to connect with others going through similar challenges.
“Sometimes talking to other carers about their experiences can really help,” Abbott says.
But without reforms to policy, psychological supports will only go so far, with the major labour and financial impacts of unpaid caring yet unaddressed.
With such a large body of responsibilities, many carers find themselves having to wind back their hours at work, some even having to resign altogether.
A Deloitte analysis commissioned by Carers Australia shows that only 22 per cent of primary carers were employed full-time in comparison to the population average of 43 per cent.
While the Federal Government does offer a carer’s pension, it is barely enough for a person to get by on, with maximum fortnightly payments of only $900.80 for singles, and $1358 for couples.
With all of this in mind, Abbott says that both state and federal governments have a responsibility to create policies that provide support for unpaid carers, with Carers Victoria endorsing reforms relating to four key pillars:
- Better financial policies to allow carers to live sustainably during their caring period;
- Policies to better support the health and wellbeing of carers;
- Greater supports from government and industry to assists carers to re-engage with the workforce;
- More work to generate awareness about the role of carers, and development of a new, dedicated government portfolio, headed by a Minister for Carers.
“We are keen to work with both government and corporate bodies to develop new policies that support carers to reengage in the workforce, including new flexible working arrangements,” Abbott says.
“Carers just want to have the same opportunities as non-carers and to not be left behind, and we really think it’s up to both levels of government to assist.”
Carers Australia has largely slammed government inaction on greater supports for this pressured cohort, emphasising that demand for unpaid caring is set to increase by 23 per cent by 2030.
Melanie Cantwell, acting CEO of Carers Australia, points out that the Federal Government currently has no active National Carers Strategy, with the last iteration lapsing in 2014.
“If not now, when will carers enter the centre of policy considerations?
“When the pandemic is over and this election is over, many carers’ lives will not change – they will continue to be socially isolated, financially disadvantaged and unrecognised. Carers Australia asks again: who will care for carers?”