Aged care and the informal care space

Increasingly, older people (aged 65 and over) in Australia are choosing to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible. This is being facilitated by access to a combination of formal (paid) care, such as the Commonwealth Home Support Programme and the Home Care Package, as well as informal (unpaid) care.

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are roughly 2.7 million informal carers (primary and non-primary carers) in Australia. Of those, roughly 420,700 are identified as primary carers to older people.

 

Furthermore, in terms of the importance of informal care in the Australian aged care space, the replacement value of all informal care with formal care has been estimated to be roughly $60.3 billion per annum.

Informal care, whether as a primary carer or non-primary carer, is often provided on a regular, and ongoing basis. Depending on the care recipient’s needs and condition, the care can encompass help, support or supervision in one or more of the following activities:

  • Core activities. For example, mobility, self-care and communication.
  • Non-core activities. For example, health care, cognitive or emotional tasks, household chores, property maintenance, meal preparation, reading or writing, and transport.

In carrying out this type of care, it’s important to note that a pre-existing relationship more often than not exists. For example, the carer may be a family member, close friend or neighbour of the care recipient.

Importantly, care can be a positive and rewarding experience for both the carer and the carer recipient.

However, this is not to say that care does not come without potential negative and challenging experiences. For example, from the carer’s perspective it can also be a source of:

  • Financial strain. Discussed in more detail below.
  • Emotional and physical strain. For example, the development of chronic health conditions directly linked to the caring role, such as anxiety, depression, and back problems.
  • Social strain. For example, the reduction of time to maintain their social wellbeing, including their ability to participate in their community and interact with their family members and close friends.

In these instances, there are support services available. For example, in terms of the emotional, physical and social strain, there are respite care services. Respite care can provide a carer with the opportunity to have a short break from their caring role, and can either be planned in advance or available in emergency situations.

From a financial perspective, a carer can encounter financial strain when trying to manage caring commitments with work, study or training. The financial strain is briefly shown below.

 

 
Summary of income, employment and education levels*
Measure Primary carers Non-primary carers Non-carers
Median gross personal weekly income^ $520 $813 $900
Government pension or allowance as main source of income^ 42.7% 18.0% 11.3%
Unemployment rate# 7.3% 6.4% 5.4%
Workforce participation rate# 43.3% 63.9% 69.2%
Educational attainment of Year 12 or higher# 63.2% 69.0% 71.3%

*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2017). Australia’s welfare 2017.

^People aged 15 to 64 years.

#People aged 15 and over.

 

In conjunction with above, carers often report:

Importantly, the Government recognises the financial strain and subsequently offers financial assistance to eligible carers to help support them in their role. The types of financial assistance are briefly shown below.

 

 
Summary of carer income support and payments^
Payment Rate Key features
Carer Payment $933.40 per fortnight for a single

 

$703.50 per fortnight for a member couple

A fortnightly, means tested, income support payment for people who, because of the demands of their caring role, are unable to support themselves through substantial paid employment.

 

Please see here for further information on the Carer Payment.

Carer Allowance $131.90 per fortnight A fortnightly, income-tested, income supplement for people who provide daily care and attention in a private home to people with a disability or severe medical condition or who are frail and aged.

 

Please see here for further information on the Carer Allowance.

Carer Supplement $600 per annum An annual lump sum payment intended to assist in alleviating financial pressures experienced by a carer.

 

Please see here for further information on the Carer Supplement.

*Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. (2019). Carers of older Australians: Background paper 6.

 

Moving forward

With an ageing population and older Australians choosing to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible, there will be a continued (and increased) need for both formal and informal care.

Informal care can be a positive and rewarding experience for both the carer and the carer recipient. However, this is not to say that care does not come without potential negative and challenging experiences.

In light of this, it’s important to understand that carers are not alone. There is support available to help with the financial, emotional, physical and social strain that can sometimes come with being a carer.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.