Calling Our Carers A Burden Is Not Very Helpful

And linking them to welfare dependency is just plain wrong.

18/10/2016 5:31 AM AEDT | Updated 18/10/2016 5:30 AM AEDT
by ana_gr
All these young carers show maturity beyond their years.

Australia's army of family and friend carers are truly unsung heroes. An army that anyone could be recruited to. They do their duty sometimes from a sense of responsibility, but mostly out of love.

National Carer's Week this week gives us the opportunity to salute these carers and pay tribute to the work they do.

A sudden and debilitating illness, a road accident or an injury at work can mean a relative or friend needs part-time or full-time care.

Carers may also support and provide around-the-clock care for children with additional needs, sick or elderly family members and people with a disability or mental illness. It is estimated that 2.8 million Australians provide unpaid care and work tirelessly every day, often putting their own lives on hold to care for a loved one.

They are extraordinary people.

I was fortunate enough to meet a group of young carers recently and talk with them about their experiences.

One 17-year-old has been caring for his mother, who has a chronic health condition, for the past three years.

He left school in grade eight. He said his teachers assumed he had drug or alcohol problems but he simply had to stay at home to care for his mother. He was too exhausted to go to school. However, he has returned to studying and despite long hours caring for his mother, who has just had surgery, he is achieving excellent results in his two diplomas.

Another young carer I met, a young refugee, was thrust into a significant caring role at the age of 15. Now 19, she cares for both parents and her grandmother, who are all ill with a range of conditions, as well as her two younger siblings.

Another young carer who is transitioning out of her caring role has cared for her mother and two brothers since she was in primary school. Sadly, one brother passed away in 2012 from a rare genetic condition. She is an exceptional young woman who has won a national award for her drive and dedication.

All these young carers show maturity beyond their years. They are articulate and, above all, they are resilient and are trying to plan future lives outside their caring roles. They work hard to balance their caring role with any work or school they can fit in.

Like all carers, their contribution to our communities and the national economy is enormous. A Deloitte Access Economics Report for Carers Australia last year estimated that the replacement value for the work carers do at $60.3 billion per year. That is more than $1 billion a week.

There are around 306,000 carers aged under 25 and, of these, 23,200 are primary carers who provide the majority of care to an individual.

Young carers, like the ones I met, do an incredible job. But they face extraordinary challenges in balancing their caring role, their education and finding a job.

Young carers have been singled out and targeted under the Government's new 'investment approach'. However, in a recent speech to the National Press Club, the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, failed to spell out exactly what additional supports and services his new "investment approach" would provide to young carers.

He was happy to talk about "long-term welfare dependency", which in itself has negative connotations, and payments to carers, but failed to mention how much carers save the community every day.

Such language is causing real concern to young carers who want support, not criticism.

Mr Porter talks about the higher lifetime costs of young carers but never acknowledges how much they are saving the Government by being carers.

At Senate Estimates in February it was revealed that a review was being undertaken into the eligibility for the Carers Payment. Mr Porter should reveal details of the status of this review.

Instead of treating carers as if they are a burden, Mr Porter should be treating them with respect and dignity. Mr Porter's link of carers to automatic "welfare dependency" is unfair and just plain wrong. If Mr Porter is going to talk about humanity and kindness in economic or dollar terms, then he should not forget to mention the findings of the Deloitte report.

I only hope that the Government's outreached arm is to provide a helping hand to Australia's carers, not a figurative slap in the face.

Senator Brown is the Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers.

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