With all the discussion about the government’s intentions for carer bonuses and payments, Mr Rudd seems to have lost sight of the bigger picture: even with this bonus, carers are seriously under appreciated and under funded. Payment of the bonus or a reorganisation of existing allocation of funds does little to address an issue which has been in dire need of attention for some time now.
People who currently receive the Carer Payment and the Carer Allowance bonus already live week to week with an income about $200 a week below the minimum wage.
Deakin University recently released research showing one third of Australia’s carers are suffering from severe depression, while young people caring for family members with a disability are the most depressed group in Australia. Carers provide a valuable service to individuals and our community that often comes at great personal, wellbeing and financial cost, and are often in low paid, casual or part time work or in fact are unable to work because of their caring duties. We need to ensure these valuable members of society are looked after at all stages and levels, including into their retirement.
The Greens support Carers Australia’s recommendations (PDF 131KB) that the Federal Government doubles the Carer Payment for sole parent carers. This would work towards reducing their financial distress. Such distress is often related to costs of medical bills, equipment or special needs of the person for whom they care.
Ignoring the hardships endured by carers in this country will further disadvantage and marginalise the sector, in some cases causing further social problems. A staggering 19 per cent of carers were identified as being at severe risk of depression in the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, October 2007.
According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics, carers have the lowest wellbeing score (58.5) of any group surveyed for the study. Other groups with low wellbeing index figures include “unemployed” people with 66.6 and people “alone and unemployed” at 60.0. Carers also often deal with these added issues of social isolation and unemployment.
Skimping on supporting carers ultimately ends up costing us as a society through lost productivity and increased health-care costs. This is in addition to the personal cost to carers. We need to see a doubling of the Carer payment to $197 per fortnight, the introduction of a Carers Superannuation scheme, and improved funding for respite care across Australia.
We firmly believe that all Australians have a right to independence, self-determination and choice in their lives. Further, that people who experience disability, along with their families and carers, should have the opportunity to actively participate in policy development, in service planning and delivery. We need to see a drastic increase in resources for disability services, particularly in the areas of increased age-appropriate accommodation places, better respite services, and improved access standards.
Government has a responsibility to support carers in whatever way it can, taking pains not to cause these marginalised people any unnecessary angst. Processes for accessing assistance, financial or otherwise, should be simple. Often carers do not immediately access support services or apply for financial assistance. In some cases, we see some of the same problems that plague the mental health sector - people are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma that is placed upon them by society. They do not want to acknowledge that there is a crisis in process and it is often only in the ultimate culmination of various pressures that they seek the assistance they are in desperate need of.
In a time when we are supposed to be experiencing significant economic growth, we are penny pinching at the expense of the people who can least afford it and are most vulnerable.
We should be asking ourselves if this is really a sign of a caring and decent society. We are not providing these people with a decent life for themselves, or the people they care for. This is a sector of our community that deserve a great deal of respect for their role in taking on hard work that others shy away from, and who certainly deserve support from our government.
An integrated national carer strategy is required, one that formally acknowledges the role and contribution of carers and provides co-ordination of carer policy across government.
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