The cost of care is a major policy issue for Australia during the coming decades. Currently one in 8 Australians provides some form of care to children, or elderly or disabled people. Most carers are women, and we expect too much from them.
We face a double-edged demographic sword as our population ages – not enough tax-paying workers and not enough carers.
Here is Australia’s demographic challenge.
Our ageing population means larger number of workers than ever before will retire during the next 20 years.
Because of this, we need to attract more people to the workforce to pay taxes so the country can fund the significant welfare, medical and care needs of the elderly.
An obvious source of labour is women who have exited the workforce to have children. However, the very reason we need to attract women back to the workforce could be the reason many of them end up staying at home: to care not only for children, but also for ageing parents or relatives – it’s the care “double whammy”.
Many carers have to “give up” the opportunity to do paid work and, as a result, need to rely on welfare. Many also suffer from perceptions that their time out of workforce has made them less employable.
One-third of people providing primary care for elderly or disabled people live in households whose income places them in the poorest fifth of households in Australia.
The cost to the country is lower if disabled or elderly people are cared for at home, and this is partly the case because the majority of costs are being borne by carers.
We need to make a decision.
Do we commit more public funding to care facilities so more people can be cared for outside the home? Or
Do we pay home carers more to compensate them for the direct and indirect costs of providing care?
At all levels of society, we need to debate how we can provide better financial , workplace and community support to people who care for children, the disabled and the elderly.