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Who Cares About the Unpaid Carers?

Unpaid Carers This is a guest post by Michael Mckenna, about his experiences as an unpaid carer:

My name is Michael and I am Unpaid Carer.

My Mum died unexpectedly in March 2009. I was present, and as a result, now suffer from PTSD, anxiety and depression. In October 2009 I was made redundant from my job at the Federal Court of Australia, and immediately obtained a position with the Supreme Court of Tasmania. But I had to decline this offer as my Dad had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his health was deteriorating and I was needed as his full-time Carer. Dad also now has Type 2 Diabetes.

I’ve been caring for my Dad for over 4 years. What a tough roll. Not only emotionally but also financially as I am now a bankrupt. I am 51 years of age and my life feels over. My chances of obtaining work when my gorgeous Dad dies will be minimal, considering my current age and length of time out of the workplace.

Being a single Unpaid Carer I receive a Carer Payment of around $20,000 pa. This payment is far less than the minimum wage. I have not had a day off in over 4 years. As I am called an Unpaid Carer, even if I could afford a small contribution to Superannuation I would not be entitled to the Superannuation Co-contribution as I am not in paid employment. How absurd. There are some 2.7 million Unpaid Carers in Australia and unlike any other group of workers who accumulate wealth throughout their life, Unpaid Carers only accumulate poverty. Currently, when the Unpaid Caring role has ended, the Carer receives up to 14 weeks of Carers Payment and is then placed on the Newstart Allowance until reaching Age Pension age. This 14 week payment equates to approximately $5500. Australia’s 2.7 Million Unpaid Carers provide care with an estimated annual replacement value in 2012 of over $40.9 billion. No Annual Leave, no Sick Leave, no accumulation of Superannuation. Just work, and, sadly, poverty-like conditions during retirement.

Some 6 months ago I e-mailed 31 letters to Members of Parliament and newspaper editors. My main purpose for writing was to plead for a political party to seriously assist Unpaid Carers with retirement savings. I only received four replies. One was from the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard who chose not to address my concerns regarding Unpaid Carers in retirement. I appreciate that Ms Gillard at least replied to my e-mail.

In the case of the current Prime Minister, no reply was received, not even an acknowledgment of receipt from his Office. This is a person who actually has the hide to wear the lycra each year for the Pollie Pedal which assists Carers Australia. If Mr Abbott could not find the time to respond to a very important issue regarding Unpaid Carers, it is most obvious that his participation in the Pollie Pedal is a ruse with the hope that it may be seen that he actually has a caring side. I now know differently. The Prime Minister actually has a very thick hide approaching the Media scrum once a year to ride a bike in support of Carers. Not a word or policy about Carers for the remainder of the year. How I wish Carers Australia had the fortitude to advise him that his pretence of interest is no longer welcome.

Now the Prime Minister wishes to introduce a Paid Parental Leave Scheme which is totally unjust and unfair. It will pay up to the amount of $75,000 over 6 months. Quite honestly, this is an insult to all Unpaid Carers who, through their selfless sacrifice, save the taxpayer billions of dollars. I believe the Prime Minister has stated that having a child should not disadvantage families in terms of income or savings. Obviously, he has no such concerns for Unpaid Carers who look after their parents, children or other family members. To actually have a policy of potentially paying a person $75,000 over 6 months for having a break from the workforce after having a child, which in itself is already a most precious gift, is an absolute kick in the guts to all Unpaid Carers who abandon work, financial security and their own health to care for someone other than themselves. This is certainly not a Fair Go for Unpaid Carers. To put this unjust payment into better perspective, it would take almost 4 years for an Unpaid Carer to accumulate this total payment (not 6 months).

Of greatest concern to me, and I am sure all other Unpaid Carers, is not so much the inadequate Carers Payment (though it is totally inadequate) but that no one is speaking out about the need for continuing welfare after the Unpaid Caring role has ended.

What I am suggesting is that a political party finds the moral fortitude and will-power to introduce a policy that in government, they will pay a contribution to Superannuation for Unpaid Carers. I believe the Employer Super Contribution is 9%; why not for Unpaid Carers? This could have been a stand-out policy during the last Federal Election, and, if I may be so bold to state, would have been a very popular policy amongst voters. It must be remembered that everyone will at some time require care.

I know that both political Parties would state “We cannot afford approximately $2000 a year Superannuation contribution for all Unpaid Carers”. As this I am sure will be the case, I wish to offer the following as a policy which would be simple to introduce, simple administratively and would, importantly, give Unpaid Carers some extra income when their caring role is over.

Very simply, for every 1 year of Unpaid Care, $10 per fortnight to be paid above either the Newstart Payment or Age Pension.

For example: I am 51 years of age and have been an Unpaid Carer for 4 years and 4 months. If my caring role now ended I would be paid $40 extra per fortnight of Newstart Allowance and then $40 extra per fortnight once transferred to Age Pension. As another example, a wonderful person who has received the Carers Payment for 10 years would be entitled to receive an extra $100 per fortnight when their caring role ends. Unpaid Carers should know that they will have some small savings in retirement. Ideally, the policy should be retrospective, so that all current Unpaid Carers are included, taking into account all years worked as an Unpaid Carer.

I have never achieved anything of note during my lifetime but I hope the following suggestion can be examined then introduced to assist all Unpaid Carers accumulate some form of security in their retirement.

Michael Mckenna

 285 total views,  3 views today


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  1. Joanne Sullivan

    Do not undersell yourself by saying that ” you have never achieved anything of note” Michael. What you have done and are doing for your parents is in itself extremely noteworthy as is your post. I commend you for your article and agree with all the sentiments expressed therein, particularly regarding the paid parental leave scheme.

  2. abbienoiraude

    Thank you Michael for writing a piece in support of unpaid Carers. We are the forgotten members of the community. When I mentioned in a post about unions I said; “I wish I had a union”. I was advised I did have one, Carers’ Australia. I am a member of Carers NSW and get their newsletter. I do not find anywhere in their pamphletts anything about payments, superannuation or the future of carers. I just presumed they are a support network who can put you in contact with others in the same position or help with connections to ‘services’ as required. To speak of money may be just too political.

    One of the things I have learned about we on welfare is, under this present Government, one of their aims is to pit one welfare recipient against another. aka-‘take money from group A to give more to group B'(as in your reference to PPL scheme.) I found the PPL scheme under the ALP to be the fairest scheme and believe a parent should be supported to care for their charge in the first TWO years of life ( until language is developed).
    When it comes to subsidies for middle classes ( private health rebate, childcare support, superannuation top ups, negative gearing, etc) these are no go areas under this Government.

    I think Newstart is totally inadequate for the unemployed, and that the DSP is slowly being phased out to the detriment of future citizens who find themselves in the unenviable situation of being in someway disabled.
    It is a strange conundrum that if I cared for someone who is not connected to me I would be considered as a ‘worker’ and paid accordingly, but because I care for my husband it is not considered as a full time ‘job’.

    Carer’s have somehow fallen through the cracks of our system. How anyone can think that doing this ‘work’ is negated because it is done out of love, is beyond me. How anyone can think that the experience it brings to your life and your self is negligible when applying to reenter the workforce, also is beyond belief, but that is how it is seen.
    So your suggestion of a ‘paid’ carers scheme makes sense.

    Thank you for the work you are doing with your dad, and in this, raising our awareness of the need for recognition and support for all Unpaid Carers.

  3. Jane Boswell

    Thankyou for the article Michael/Victoria, I am now caring for my second one, which I found after being on newstart for 6 months which essentially left me without any money left in the bank. I, like you, live very carefully and worry about having to replace the car or other major money expenditure. I am in my early 60’s having been out of the workforce for 7 years – I am essentially unemployable by todays standards when the chicky bird always gets the job on so many levels. We have all achieved something in our lives but like you feel that we are on the scrapheap of life. I married 8 months ago – not to the one I care for and Centrelink reduced my payment by over $200 a fortnight – even the waged would find that difficult to cope with. What I would like is no interference with carers payments and the introduction of your scheme of $10 a week extra for each year of service, with a permanent qualifying period over 5 years of continuous service so that you can stay on the same rate of carers payment, without the allowance. Sound like a plan

  4. khtagh

    I feel for your situation Michael Mckenna, I did the same for my mother after she contracted Hep C from a blood transfusion some 20 yrs ago until it killed her, unfortunately the Red cross deemed her life only worth $20,000. I think it all comes down to the fact we are not deemed people of calibre so we have to fend for ourselves.

  5. Dan Rowden


    I’m very familiar with the trials and tribulations of those on Carer Payment and benefit. My own family has been through this and my partner is a Carer for her profoundly autistic boy; she is the same age as you.. You mention that you’ve not had a day off for 4 years. If you haven’t so I urge you to look into the various respite programmes that are in place for Carers, both State and Federal, that may be applicable to you. They’re not much, but they’re something.

  6. diannaart

    Thank you Michael McKenna and congratulations for your great achievement of caring for your parents, ensuring they were loved and cared for.

    That the powers-that-be do not recognise this massive contribution to our civilised society (well the part that is civilised) is appalling, a significant indictment that we are not as civilised as we think.

    We all will require care in our later years no matter how fit we maintain ourselves through life.

    Even the wealthy and powerful will need someone to clean and feed them (on a pittance of their own wealth), and these carers will just simply care for them – lucky for these oligarchs I won’t be a care worker – I don’t think I could be trusted not to spit in their gravy.


  7. dave the brickie

    $880 Million to Rupert Turdoch only seems a pittance when said quickly enough.As if they can’t pass a retrospective law to make his cheque swap illegal,as Howard did to the bottom of the harbour schemes.Take him on Hockey,you weak animal.Oh that’s right,He put you there.(note the capital H as given to the tin god).This would go a long way to address Michael’s problem.

  8. Petrawright

    What I received from helping my mother was peace of mind. When growing up I went into fostercare due to mum being too ill to care for us. So hen I was in my fifties I drove her to her appointments, and she did her shopping with my help. Cleaned her home. Then my sister Suzy made sure Mums garden an lawns were taken care of by doing them herself. While at her home and Mum rested I was always worried that she may pass away while I was there. She did then go to into hospital where she she did finally pass away there. Bless her.

  9. Stephen Tardrew

    Great post Michael. I heartily concur and completely understand your circumstances. This is a first class solution that may not resolve all the difficulties for carers but is at least a start. You have my full support. You know when I read about all the people that selflessly give themselves to the needs of others I know we have the moral strength to turn this inequality fest around using new and innovative ideas. All the best to you.

  10. Fed up

    Today, they are adding nannies. It appears there are up to thirty thousand, some for up to two decades.

    Yes, and being paid cash in hand.

    I must say, if the reports are true, there are a lot of corrupt, upper income earners out there.

    Yes, cheating the worker out of wages. Cheating the taxation department out of tax.

  11. Fed up

    Yes, (I know I was a little off topic, but fits in with the PPL. Yes, this mob are entitled it appears.

  12. olddavey

    The first question asked at every LNP presser in future should be “Minister (insert name here), why was News Corp allowed to steal $880,000,000 from the Australian Taxpayer by using dishonest accounting practices?”
    This should be asked loudly so that the Tory harlots have no choice but to answer.

  13. Dissenter

    Michael, Is your father also a pensioner? Are you the only child?
    I ask these questions because after this sacrifice which is a serious FINANCIAL Loss to you you should be the ONLY beneficiary of any estate there is left.
    You need to have your father change his will if necessary BEFORE dementia sets in because then HE CAN”T change his will because his COMPETENCE to do so will be TESTED by a solicitor.
    If he fails his will cannot be changed.

    You have your entire life to consider AFTER your sacrifice and so I suggest that. If your father is a pensioner I hope that you are taking the approach that two can live cheaply and you should cut back SO that YOU CAN SAVE from your fathers pension too. As awful as that sounds IT IS you that is not earning what You COULD BE because you are caring for your father.
    Apart from that I wish you to know that you have my respect. Your efforts are saving the government as much as 200,000 a year but you will never be paid for it.

    You have to pay yourself.

    If the property is saleable, have it appraised. If it needs to be renovated slowly slowly do it yourself. You will both lose your pensions if it is worth too much so you can’t sell it now miost likely but if it is renovated then it is better for future sale.
    If your father is disabled the bathroom may be able to be renovated by Centrelink for a disabled person to be able to use and if the toilet is outside that too. It may be bought inside ( I think).
    You are a capable person. Consider the possibility of working online in some way. Consider how you can make life work for you. Do you know any other carers in similar positions? Could you team up?
    If you could make small incomes from anything what could they be.
    Could you grow plants and sell pots. Could you grow vegetables and sell them locally to neighbours or local shop or ??? Even small change- $50 a week is worth having. Look at numerous ways.
    Can you cook well? Could you cook beautiful pies or quiches or flans and sell them or cheesecakes or cakes? Could you sell on ebay?Can you do up furniture ?Sell on ebay.
    Overall as hard as it IS you can make it worth your while financially if you look at those small ways and HAVE A GO.

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