Impact of COVID-19 on informal carers
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been a significant challenge for many Australians. The virus can have a more serious impact on older people, those who have pre-existing medical conditions and people with disability—groups of people who often rely on informal carers. To reduce the risk of infection, different levels of formal restrictions have been in place, and these may have affected informal carers differently. For example, people who do not live with the person they look after may have had these arrangements disrupted. In addition, people may have voluntarily limited contact with either the person they care for, or with the wider community to reduce the risk of infecting the person they care for. For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations, see Aged care, Aged care for Indigenous Australians and Specialised supports for people with a disability.
According to the ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, in November 2020, around 1 in 6 (16%) Australians aged 18 years and over reported being an informal carer (ABS 2020). Since 1 March 2020, 1 in 4 (25%) of these informal carers had difficulty providing care or assistance because of restrictions put in place following COVID-19, 22% reduced their recreational activities, and 22% changed their working arrangements (ABS 2020). For more information on the impacts of COVID-19, see ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 survey.
People who provide informal care are not paid for the care they provide, although some receive income support payments from the Australian Government. This is a smaller subgroup of all informal carers—people whose caring duties are significant enough to limit their ability to engage in paid work.
The means-tested Carer Payment provides income support for people who care for someone who has considerable needs due to disability or ill health, making them unable to support themselves through substantial paid employment. As at 25 September 2020, over 294,000 people aged 16 and over received the means-tested Carer Payment (DSS 2021). The number of informal carers receiving financial assistance through Services Australia (Carer Payments) increased by 3.9% in March 2020 compared with March 2019 (from 279,300 to 290,100), and by 4.5% in September 2020 compared with September 2019 (from 281,900 to 294,500) (DSS 2021). A proportion of people who qualify for Carer Payments may not be receiving financial assistance through the Carer Payment if they are receiving other financial assistance, such as parenting, disability, unemployment or age pension payments.
This increase may be related to employment changes people experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example someone previously working part-time and caring for a family member may have become eligible to receive the Carer Payment due to loss of income. Additionally, changes in formal assistance may be caused by the ageing population as the majority (68%) of carers and care recipients were aged 45 and over. While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in large increases in the number of income support recipients overall, changes attributed to the pandemic should be approached with caution and acknowledgement of the long-term trends.
Of people receiving the Carer Payment at 25 September 2020:
- almost 4 in 5 (79%) were being paid the full rate of payment (meaning their assets and income were both below relevant thresholds)
- almost half (47%) had been receiving the payment for 5 years or more
- more than 2 in 5 (44%) had been on some form of income support for 10 years or more
- 7 in 10 (70%) were aged 45 and over
- 7 in 10 (70%) were female (DSS 2021).
People may also, or instead, receive the Carer Allowance, which is a smaller supplementary payment for carers who provide daily care and attention at home for a person with a disability, severe medical condition or who is frail and aged. The Carer Allowance may be paid in addition to income support payments. At 25 September 2020, over 623,000 people received this allowance compared with over 608,000 at 27 September 2019 (DSS 2021).
The Carer Gateway is a program that aims to acknowledge and support the work of unpaid carers. The Australian Government first announced Carer Gateway on 5 March 2018, along with $700 million in funding over five years. In the recent 2021–22 Federal Budget and in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the Government announced a further investment of nearly $800 million into increasing supports available to informal and family carers of older Australians, particularly for those caring for people living with dementia. An additional $103 million was also allocated to Carer Gateway to improve the pathways available to informal carers when accessing support services. For more information on the Carer Gateway and supporting carers in Australia, see Department of Social Services Supporting Carers and Disability support pension and carer payment.
This section presents selected data for Carer Payment recipients (the carer) and the people they provided care to (the care receiver). As at 25 September 2020, there were almost 291,000 care receivers (people receiving care who qualify their carer for carer payment) (DSS 2021).
Age and sex
Around 7 in 10 care payment recipients and care receivers were aged 45 and over (70% and 68% respectively) (Figure 2). However, people receiving Carer Payment most commonly provided care to an older person aged 65 and over (42%) or to a young child aged under 16 (14%).