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Care and support services for an ageing population has been flagged as a major theme impacting Australia’s economy and society over the next 40 years.
The government’s recently released 2023 Intergenerational Report highlights the impact of Australia’s ageing population and the rising demand for aged care and support services on future economic growth.
The ageing population is expected to reinforce the trend towards a services-based economy, with the care and support sector and its workforce potentially doubling over the next 40 years.
But it’s not just the paid workforce that will need to increase to meet demand for care and services.
Informal or unpaid carers are already a major force. An estimated 2.65 million Australians are providing unpaid care and support to a family member or friend with disability, a medical condition, mental illness or someone who is frail due to age.
According to Deloitte, in 2020 a hidden labour force of young and old carers provided 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care to the value of $77.9 billion. Older Australians are often in those caring roles, which may involve assisting family members who work and caring for grandchildren.
Care for the carers
Caring can be emotional and stressful, so carers need to be able to access support to carry out their roles effectively.
While there is a range of available services, navigating where to get help can be difficult.
A good place to start is the Carer Gateway – a government program providing free services and support including:
- Emotional and practical support
- Counselling – Free counselling gives carers the opportunity to talk through the range of emotions that are experienced in the carer role, via three methods of delivery: in person one-on-one counselling (up to six sessions), in-person group counselling and phone counselling
- Online skills courses designed to enhance the carer’s wellbeing. Courses include dealing with stress, effective communication techniques, recharge and reconnect, legal issues, social connections and sleep
- Emergency respite – either in home or respite centres
- Coaching – self-guided and in-person coaching offering information, practical tips and reflection activities
- Tailored packages – providing specific services and support, and may include services and equipment, planned respite, cooking and cleaning services, assistance with shopping and transport to medical appointments, shopping and the like.
The gateway’s aim is to provide information and advice on the supports available to informal carers across Australia.
Your information will then be shared with one of 16 gateway providers around the country who assist with the delivery of the support needed by carers. You can access financial support, respite services and support caring for someone with dementia.
Financial support for carers
Caring is considered unpaid, however there may be some monetary benefits available to carers.
Informal carers may receive income support from the Australian Government if your caring duties are significant enough to impact on your ability to engage in paid work.
The carer payment provides income support to people who care for someone who has considerable needs due to disability, ill health or frailty. This payment is means-tested – you need to submit their income and asset details to Services Australia or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), who will assess the rate payable.
The carer allowance is an income supplement for people providing additional daily care for someone who has needs due to disability, ill health or frailty.
This payment can be paid in addition to the carer payment. There is no asset test, but the payment is subject to a family income test – adjusted taxable income and the carer and their partner must be less than $250,000 a year.
While the carer allowance may only be a current set rate of $144.80 a fortnight, it is more the recognition that the role of a carer is a valued one. The carer allowance payment is reviewed on 1 January each year.
Respite support for carers
Respite care provides short-term, temporary relief for carers, allowing them to take a break from their caring duties to rest and recharge. This could be time to get on with everyday activities and chores or to relax and enjoy an activity for themselves.
Respite care can be a couple of hours in the home, where someone comes into the house while the carer goes out. Alternatively, respite can also be at an organised day centre or overnight in a residential aged care home.
While carers can pre-plan and arrange support, emergency respite care can be available at short notice if the carer suddenly finds they cannot provide care, for example, due to illness or injury.
Some important things to know about respite care are:
- To access government subsidised respite care, the care receiver must be assessed and approved by the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT).
- Residential respite takes place in a residential aged care home. You are entitled to up to 63-days per financial year, but it is up to individual facilities as to whether you can use the whole 63 days in one go. Most require a two-week minimum. With the appropriate approval, it is possible to extend the 63 days by 21 days at a time.
- If the carer receives a carer payment, they can have 63 days of respite each calendar year without the payment stopping.
- Fees may be payable for respite care. Often the daily fee is the same as the Basic Daily Care Fee for residential care, currently $58.98 a day.
Dementia support for carers
It is estimated that more than 400,000 Australians are living with dementia, with more than 1.5 million people involved in caring for them.
Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to more than 800,000 by 2058 and it will become the major cause of death.
Living with, and caring for, someone living with dementia can be particularly challenging without additional support.
Dementia Australia has a national support hotline (1800 100 500) which offers a range of support services including access to counsellors, help with daily activities such as personal care, household tasks, shopping, preparing meals, managing finances, appointments and taking medications as well as maintaining social connection to family and friends.