Speaking up for Carers

13 October 2020


Ms JODIE HARRISON(Charlestown) (19:37:46):This week marks National Carers Weeka week in which the 2.65million Australians who provide care and support to afamily member or friend with adisability are acknowledged. National Carers Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about carers and the diversity of caring roles. In NewSouth Wales there are approximately 850,000 peoplesome as young as eight years oldproviding informal care. According to arecent report by Deloitte Access Economics, carers deliver the equivalent of $79.9billion worth of labour by giving informal care to others. That figure has been derived from what it would cost should the government deliver the service of caring. The lost opportunity for carers to engage in incomegenerating activities, such as employment or running abusiness, is valued at $15billion.

In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, my staff and I made outreach calls to the elderly in the Charlestown electorateas Iam sure many did across NewSouth Walesto check that they were being cared for. We called hundreds of residents across the electorate. It was heartening to learn that the vast majority of senior citizens were being looked after. Many were receiving informal care from neighbours, family and friends. We heard stories of neighbours running errands and hunting the shopping aisles for rare rolls of toilet paper, delivering cooked meals to the doorsteps of elderly or disabled neighbours and checking in with phone calls, all to make sure the vulnerable people would not have to leave their homes during the lockdown. During the height of the lockdown, many in the Charlestown electorate became informal carers for others and, like many who are carers, they may not have recognised that they were giving informal care.

Recognition of oneself as acarer continues to be abarrier to carers receiving support, especially in Indigenous communities in NewSouth Wales. Those hidden carers do not reach out for help because they do not know that they can and they do not know what support is available. A national survey of carers by Caring Fairly found that fewer than 10percent of carers have received additional support during the pandemic. Organisations such as Carers NSW have said that during the COVID19 pandemic the mental health of many carers has been impacted. Lockdown measures, although necessary, have exacerbated carers' mental health issues. There has been no meaningful additional support for carers by the NewSouth Wales Government during the pandemic. Carers give their labour to support people with adisability, to support people with mental health issues and to support people with chronic illness. Carers give care without nearly enough support and without nearly enough acknowledgement.

Primarily, caring duties primarily fall to women. In NewSouth Wales, as much as 80percent of the people providing informal care are female. Carers do need more recognition for the work they undertake, but they also need meaningful support. Annual surveys of carers in NewSouth Wales show the cost of caring is high, and that price is paid by the carers themselves. There is the expense of caring: finding money to cover medications, disability aids, health care and transport. An Australian Bureau of Statistics ABS survey of carers found approximately 40percent were struggling to make ends meet. Carers consistently rank in the lowest position on the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. Carers routinely put the wellbeing of the person they care for ahead of their own. The health toll on carers includes physical issues, such as back problems. It also includes mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. The experience of caring often comes with social isolation and missed recreational opportunities.

In 2010, with bipartisan support, the NewSouth Wales Labor Government enacted the NSW Carers (Recognition) Act. The Act was intended as afirst step to note the work that carers undertake. It also enshrined in legislation the NSW Carers Charter. Since that time, sadly, there has been little measurable improvement for carers. The NSW Carers Strategy 20142019, delivered under the NewSouth Wales Coalition Government, has largely failed to deliver meaningful reform for carers. The intention of the strategy was to recognise carers and improve their lives over afiveyear time line. Many of the actions listed in the strategy simply never came to be. Those that were enacted did little to create change for those who are caring for others. In fact, there has been no final report on the strategy's outcomes and there has been no published evaluation of the strategy. This week anew carers' strategy was launched by the NewSouth Wales Government. Let us hope it does better than the last one, because it is time this Government started to care for the people who care.