According to the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s latest numbers 31% of unpaid carers spend 40+ hours per week caring for a family member or friend and a further 22 % of carers spend between 20 and 39 hours per week in their caring role. It is therefore no surprise that in 2015, Deloitte Access Economics reported ‘The Economic Value of Informal Care in Australia 2015’ provided by unpaid carers in Australia to be $60.3 billion per year.

Unfortunately, for many carers, taking on caring responsibilities can come at a huge cost to carers’ health and wellbeing. A longitudinal well-being study of 30,000 carers, by the Deakin University for the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, found that carers have the lowest wellbeing of any large group. Sadly, the physical, mental and emotional health and the general wellbeing of most carers in Australia is poorer than the general population, with two-thirds of carers also affected by mental and emotional health issues – most commonly anxiety and depression.

Looking after unpaid family carers is vital for us as a community, as well as for our state and federal budgets.

The 1,688 carers who participated in the Carers SA 2017 Carers Survey “Carers Count” shared with us their concerns and circumstances that influence their own health and wellbeing:
• 31% of carers reported to have poor or very poor health
• 71% have less than 5 hour of “Me Time” per week – which is time where a carer can pursue activities of choice that are not related to caring responsibilities or other chores
• 57% had no help, or only occasional help during the last 12 months
• 44% have less than 3 hours / week of help
• 87% put the needs of the person they care for before their own – either often or all of the time.

Many carers also manage work and care responsibilities as 48% of our survey respondents reported to have income from paid employment. However, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average weekly income of primary carers in SA aged 15-64 was $571 compared to $841 per week for non-carers. Overall, in our survey 45% of carers reported a household income of less than $40,000 per year.

Caring responsibilities can result in significant reduction of employment and career opportunities for carers. Carers who are juggling work and care often need to negotiate flexible work arrangements, or reduced hours. Where such arrangements are not easily supported or available, carers report having to opt for less well paid job opportunities, they often miss out on career advancement opportunities and experience stress in the workplace or performance issues, although carers in SA have an equivalent level of education compared to non-carers.

High levels of care responsibilities, associated stresses and lower opportunities to ensure economic security certainly take their toll on the health and wellbeing of South Australian Carers.

Representing the voices of family carers, Carers SA has sought commitment from the South Australian Government to support unpaid carers by ensuring appropriate funding for carers support services is available which complements or addresses eligibility and access gaps in federal funding, especially to address carer support available during the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) throughout South Australia and beyond.

In addition, we have formally made submissions to decision makers to commission an independent assessment of core living expenses in SA, to assess requirements to appropriately alleviate financial stress and its associated links to reduced health and wellbeing outcomes for carers (and their families).

Carers, and all of us as a community, have an opportunity to strengthen the voices of carers and have their needs and rights addressed by selecting those candidates in the South Australian State Election 2018, who support unpaid carers and their families.

‘March is coming’

Marianne Lewis, Carers SA, Senior Policy, Projects and Carer Engagement Officer