This week eS4W issued our White Paper on “The impact of unpaid care work on women’s (and men’s) economic security“. This White Paper outlines the costs to individual carers, and the financial benefits to the Commonwealth and State and Territory budgets from those who undertake unpaid care for their loved ones.
It covers all aspects of unremunerated personal care including care for children, aged or disabled family members or other people who require assistance to lead a dignified and reasonable life.
Carers Australia state that carers are people who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail and aged. (Carers Australia, About Carers, 2019)
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, unpaid caring work is undertaken by two main groups in Australia:
- parents (who include biological, step, adoptive, or foster parents, and grandparents or guardians with caring responsibilities for a dependent child); and
- carers (who include people caring for a family member or friend with disability, chronic illness or frailty due to older age. Persons with disability include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
Care will affect all of us in our lives, either as parents and carers and/or as people being cared for. (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013)
It is important to emphasise that the focus in this paper relates to the economic and financial disadvantage of those providing the care and in no way attributes the shortcomings in financial and economic security for carers, to those receiving the care.
Unpaid care is a significant part of Australian society and the economy, with the bulk of caring work undertaken by women. As the United Nation notes, “the gender imbalances in the unpaid care work burden act as a systematic source of gender inequalities in a myriad of other economic and social outcomes.“ (UN Women, 2018)
The extent of unpaid care work within the economy, and given it attracts no superannuation contributions, is a critical factor undermining the economic and financial security for women. Not only does it reinforce the persistently wide gender pay gap, it also means that as women approach retirement age, they have little or no accumulated superannuation. These dynamics contribute to a high risk of a low standard of living, even poverty, for many older women.
The good news is that policy changes can be implemented that will ensure carers have financial recognition for their personal sacrifices. When implemented, the changes will also deliver a significant addition to the economy more broadly as recipients of the additional payments add to consumer spending.
Rather than to dig deeper into the already excellent research and analysis of the issues associated with unpaid care and the impact this has on women and their economic security, the main focus of this White Paper is to propose proactive policy solutions that can be implemented or phased in to correct what are obvious and material problems for many women because of their provision of unpaid care.
These policy recommendations acknowledge the value of unpaid care and when implemented, will be a critical step forward in improving the economic security of women.