Reports out of Canberra in the past week make the extra-ordinary announcement that the Rudd Government may axe the carer bonuses in the razor gang list of cuts to curb government spending to combat inflation.
But the very loud and widespread protests from the carers’ sector over the past week have forced Mr Rudd to make a public statement pledging carers and pensioners would not be worse off in the May budget. Mr Rudd told reporters that Families and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin was investigating how the system could be improved, but he has failed to rule out dumping the one-off bonus payments.
The carer bonus was paid ex gratia by the previous federal government over the past four years, to families caring for people with disabilities, chronic illness or age frailty, in recognition of the unpaid care provided by those families eligible for the carer payment and/or carer allowance.
The bonus payment of $1,000 paid by the Howard government to family carers in receipt of the Carer Payment and $600 to family members in receipt of the Carer Allowance were not included in the forward estimates, giving the Rudd razor gang the ammunition needed to axe them in their spending cuts.
It is an outrage that the Rudd Government would even consider such a budget cut for family caregivers. Cutting these few dollars from family carers is despicable under these or any other circumstances given Labor’s vocal and very constant family-friendly rhetoric.
It is outrageous that the Rudd Government will still go ahead with the $31 billion in promised tax cuts while there are inflationary pressures causing the government to cut spending. And to suggest they will cut the most worthy and vulnerable citizens in our land - when they work day in and day out for nothing, or nothing much - is nothing short of outrageous.
Mr Rudd prides himself on caring for the most vulnerable in our land, but his rhetoric will be badly tarnished if he allows carers to be penalised in such a manner. The utilities allowance increase being promised by the government to all pension recipients will be welcomed by caring families, but the $390 gain will be a net loss of $1,110 for carer payment recipients, if the bonus payments are scrapped. Carer Allowance recipients will not receive the utilities increase unless they are also a pensioner.
The public have a right to know about the spin being placed on who is a carer and who gets a payment from the government for caring, because not many families actually qualify for a government payment of any kind for caring. While more than 2.6 million families provide accommodation and care to family members with a disability, handicap or frailty, only some 96,500 were in receipt of a Carer Payment in 2005-06 (Year book Australia 2007).
The Carer Payment is income support and is only paid in full to a primary carer (full time equivalent care) where they have no other income. The payment is means tested. Carer Payment recipients are subject to Centrelink’s 25-hour, work/study/volunteering rule, the same as applies to unemployment benefits, even when the carer provides up to 12 hours care a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year plus sleepovers. The Carer Payment recipient is subject to the same breeching rules as applies to people on the dole.
Of the 2.6 million Australian family carers, only 366,000 received the Carer Allowance of a mere $50 per week in 2005-06 (Year book Australia 2007). Both these payments are subject to rigorous qualification criteria by Centrelink, which keeps hundreds of thousands of family carers out in the cold as far as any payment assistance goes.
Parents of profoundly disabled children and/or dependent adult children are not eligible for carer payment when a partner is in the paid workforce. Similarly, a person in receipt of an aged pension or disability support pension is unable to receive a carer payment.
A little understood fact about Carer Payment is that it is an “income support payment”. The well-meaning advocates for a change from Carer Pension to Carer Payment - in recognition that carers actually work for their government benefit - has muddied the water and created a public perception that all carers receive this welfare payment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
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