When we think of carers, often we think of nurses looking after patients in hospitals or aged-care facilities. We rarely consider the thousands of Australians providing unpaid care to family members and friends. In fact, according to Carers Victoria CEO Judith Abbott, many people in a caring role wouldn’t even consider themselves carers.
“A carer is someone who’s going above and beyond the usual to support someone who may have mental health challenges, a disability, health concerns or age-related frailty,” Judith says. “[Many carers] don't see that label or make that connection because they're busy doing the thing: caring. If you’re doing these kinds of things, you are considered a carer, and there’s information and support that can help you.”
That’s where Carers Victoria steps in. Celebrating its 30th year, Carers Victoria is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to improve the lives of unpaid carers. There are currently over 700,000 Victorians providing unpaid care to a family member, friend or neighbour, with around half that number giving over 20 hours a week of support. The team at Carers Victoria connects carers to government-funded resources, provides information on how to access services such as counselling and respite, offers education and training, and brings together members of the carers community for a meal, a chat, and a break.
“Caring is so rewarding, but it’s a tough thing to do,” Judith explains.
Indeed, caring can come at a personal cost. A 2020 national survey of carers found that almost half of respondents reported experiencing high to very high levels of psychological distress, while one in three felt highly socially isolated. A third of respondents said they didn’t get any time away from their caring responsibilities, with one in four reporting that they spent more money than they made within a 12-month period.
“We know that carers often experience poorer financial outcomes,” Judith says. “Research released this year found that, on average, a carer will lose about $40,000 of lifetime earnings for every year they’re in a primary caring role.
Carers Victoria wants to reach the point where every Victorian understands what a carer is, and why caring work is valuable. “An important part of what we do is advocate to both government and community to raise awareness and push for changes so that carers can be supported in their roles,” says Judith.
Public information campaigns – including media releases, partnerships and stories – are used to shed light on what care work comprises. “We connect with organisations like Bank Australia to help get that message out about what a carer is,” Judith says.
Some key developments Victorian carers would like to see implemented include flexible workplace arrangements, improved financial security, and consistent, accessible and affordable (or fully funded) support services.
“Carers are essential to our state. They make a big contribution both economically and socially, and are helping people who might otherwise be quite isolated to feel connected, supported and safe,” Judith says. “They are some of the unsung heroes of our health and social care system, and we need to support them better.”
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