National Carers Week recognises value of unpaid workers

National Carers Week 2020: Carers Australia has again kept the same theme of
National Carers Week 2020: Carers Australia has again kept the same theme of "Tell us why you care". To share your story visit Photo: Shutterstock.

National Carers Week, from October 11 to 17, is a good time to remember the many unpaid carers in Australia, and the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their lives as well as those they care for.

This year, Carers Australia commissioned a new report into what it would cost to replace Australia's unpaid carers with wage workers. The last such report of this kind was released in 2015.

Since then, the new estimated value of that work in 2020 has increased 29 percent to $77.9 billion annually, which works out to be $1.49 billion per week.

"These new figures are staggering," said Carers Australia CEO Liz Callaghan in a July 2020 statement.

"We know that unpaid carers in Australia go above and beyond to care for family members and friends in need, but to see such a huge dollar figure put on these caring roles really helps to bring their vital contribution to the community into perspective."

As another way to put some figures on the scale of this care, the report also estimated that there would be 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care in 2020, and primary carers are spending an average of 35-hours a week directly on their role as a carer.

Spare a thought then, for the effect of the pandemic's lockdowns and job losses on these many unpaid carers.

During two weeks across April and May, the Caring Fairly Coalition conducted a survey of family and friend carers that revealed they were doing it very tough.

In a May 2020 statement, interim CEO of Carers Australia Mary Reid said "while the coronavirus and its consequences have impacted negatively on many Australians, family and friend carers of people with disability, mental illness, chronic illness and the frail aged have faced a very high level of challenges to their finances and wellbeing."

This April-May survey of family and friend carers revealed that:

  • 42 per cent had lost some or all of their regular income since the COVID-19 outbreak, and 12 per cent reported losing their job.
  • 40 per cent said they had to work fewer hours because of the need to provide extra support to the person they care for.
  • 86 per cent of carers were spending more money on livings costs, with the most common increases being grocery shopping (96 per cent), cleaning (49.5 per cent) and medication (40.5 per cent).
  • 60 per cent said they had lost some or all of the supports for the person they care for and almost half reported losing supports for themselves.
  • 81 per cent said their mental health had deteriorated since the COVID-19 pandemic, and
  • 88 per cent had experienced increased stress in their role as a carer.