Disadvantage faced by ‘hidden’ unpaid carer workforce

A campaign has been launched to remedy the economic disadvantage faced by unpaid carers as new research documents the scale of the economic disadvantage faced by those who provide essential support for the needy.


The campaign, Caring Fairly, was launched in Canberra on 21 August. It is led by mental health organisation Mind Australia and backed by more than twenty organisations and peak bodies spanning every state and territory in Australia.


Research released as part of the launch shows the scale of economic disadvantage faced by unpaid carers. Commissioned by Mind Australia, it is part of an ongoing, multi-year study of Australia’s mental health carers. Last year, this work revealed 240,000 unpaid mental health carers in Australia provide support worth more than $13 billion to Australia’s economy.


This compares to research conducted by Deloitte Access Economics for Carers Australia which estimated the replacement cost of all carers in 2015 at $60.1 billion, or about 3.8% of GDP.


The latest research on unpaid mental health carers illustrates the broader issue of lack of support for unpaid carers more generally. There are 2.7 million people across Australia providing unpaid care to a family member or friend – that’s one in nine people. Many are working and earning less, and experiencing serious disadvantage as a result, compared to the rest of the population.


The latest research reveals that all unpaid carers in Australia face similar patterns of systemic social and economic disadvantage. Routinely, carers’ health, wellbeing, ability to work or go to school and continue caring is severely impacted. Many suffer lifelong disadvantage as a result of weak or outmoded government policies and inadequate workplace supports.


"Unpaid carers are essential to our society working, and the structural support they provide to the Australian economy is increasingly critical as our population ages. Without radical reforms that enable carers to remain in, or re-enter the workforce, the health and social care systems that we take for granted are at risk of collapse," said Ara Cresswell, CEO of Carers Australia.


"Many family carers don’t get the support they need to access and remain in work, and this needs to change. It is absolutely vital for the government and employers to improve supports to end the disadvantage unpaid carers suffer,” said Ms Cresswell.


The research identifies that women are most likely to be unpaid carers, and that a significant number of young Australians are taking on carer roles. In 2015 there were 20,700 primary carers of people with disability, chronic illness and mental illness between the ages of 15 and 24. There are also many young carers under the age of 15, who can face acute and lifelong disadvantage as a result of disrupted education.


“Employers, both public and private, need to understand the demands on carers, and be aware of the benefits to their businesses of providing carer-friendly workplaces. Failing to hold onto experienced workers represents a significant loss of investment in resources, time and knowledge,” said Dr Sarah Pollock, Executive Director of Research and Advocacy at Mind Australia.


"For young people, we need sophisticated policies and interventions that help them stay in education, and to provide support for their health and wellbeing, so they don’t face lifelong disadvantage,” said Dr Pollock.


In parallel with the launch of the new research, Caring Fairly has announced its new policy platform aimed at the Federal Government as well as businesses and employers. The policies seek to bridge the gap between unpaid care and workforce participation, and to deliver fairer and more inclusive outcomes for all unpaid carers in Australia - at home, in the workplace, and in society.


Caring Fairly will also be announcing a new national drive to partner with carers across Australia who wish to support the campaign.


19 September 2018.