A summary of the report’s findings will be presented this month at the National Conference on Caring 2009, being held at the Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast, on March 9 and 10, by Dr Binod Nepal, PhD, a research fellow at the University of Canberra’s National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, who was a co-author of the report.
|The Commonwealth Financial Planning (CFP) ‘Women Carers in Financial Stress Report’ is the first to examine the lifetime financial consequences of caring on Australia’s predominantly female carer population.|
Tim Gunning, CFP general manager, said Australia’s 2.6 million unpaid carers provide services estimated at more than $30.5 billion annually, yet many remain economically and socially disadvantaged.
“The CFP Women Carers Report shows informal carers have lower workforce participation rates and reduced healthy lifespan, fuelling a reduction in household incomes and retirement savings,” he said.
“I believe this research will significantly raise awareness on the well-being of carers and identify actions to reduce the risk of unnecessary financial stress on these members of the community.”
The key issues raised in the report highlight that home-based care provided by family members is the most common form of caring for people with disabilities in Australia. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that this model of care is generating enormous health and financial consequences for informal carers.
Carers are experiencing high stress levels, low sense of wellbeing and poor health. A key contributor to this is the high level of financial stress they face. There are many factors contributing to carers and their families having low household incomes.
The main reason is that taking on an informal carer role has a significant impact on an individual’s ability to work. Many carers leave paid employment either permanently or on a part-time basis to become carers.
Spending all or a significant proportion of one’s working years out of the workforce also means that there is limited opportunity to invest towards retirement through superannuation, and with high household expenditure levels relative to income, there is little opportunity for household savings.
With negligible or no superannuation, carers will have to depend on the aged pension provided by the government to support their needs in their retirement years, the report found.
Because primary carers are more likely to be women than men, women are more likely to ‘pay the price’ of being a carer.
In Australia, primary carers are most often women. Two groups of primary carers who represent a large proportion of informal carers are women caring for a child with a disability and women caring for a male partner with a disability. These two groups of women carers pay a high price in terms of their health and financial well-being for taking on a primary carer role.
As shown in this study, the impact of being a primary carer is significant and extends to the rest of the primary carer’s life - they experience a shorter period of good health over their working years; they are less able to participate in paid employment; receive lower income during their working years; and are less able to invest towards retirement.
As such, government policy addressing how to better support the needs of carers needs to focus on strategies and measures that will:
- enable carers to maintain good health over their lifetime;
- reduce financial stress through facilitating greater participation in paid work or increased government financial assistance and income support; and
- provide carers with a means to contribute to a superannuation scheme that will help provide for them in their retirement.
A quick summary of some of the report’s major findings:
- Two to four times the proportion of women primary carers report their health as being only fair or poor compared with other women of a similar age.
- The impact of caring on the health of carers increases with their age.
- Women primary carers are likely to be in a healthy state for a shorter period of their life than other women.
- Self-reported health status is positively associated with household income. Primary carers experience lower levels of
- self-reported health status compared to other women.
- The majority of female primary carers aged 30 to 64 years are out of the paid labour force.
- Primary carers spend fewer hours in paid jobs than do other women.
- Mothers who are primary carers of a child with a disability are likely to earn over their working life - depending
- on their level of education – between a quarter and half the income of women sharing the same characteristics but who are
- not primary carers.
- While mothers who are primary carers of a child with a disability receive more in government benefits than other
- women, these payments do not compensate fully for the income they forgo from paid work.
- The superannuation likely to be available to 30 year old women who are primary carers caring for a child with a disability when
- they reach 65 years of age will be negligible for many, and insufficient to provide an adequate retirement income for most.
- Women who are aged 50 years old taking on a primary carer role for a partner with a disability and who are able to maintain
- some paid work would expect to earn approximately 80 per cent of the accumulated income that would be earned by other women without carer responsibilities.
- Access to government benefits for this group of carers goes a considerable way in compensating for loss of income through caring roles.
- There is over a two-fold difference in the superannuation that a 50-year-old woman primary carer (of a male partner who is no
- longer able to work because of her caring role and who has secondary school qualifications only) can expect to access at
- 65 years of age, compared to women who have post-secondary schooling, who continue to work up to retirement at 65 years of age, and who do not have the same caring responsibilities.
* The study was conducted by NATSEM, the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, a major research centre within the University of Canberra.