Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Carers

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: This afternoon I will speak about recognising carers because, as most of you will already be aware, it is currently National Carers Week, when we acknowledge those in the community who provide this invaluable caring service. I attended the Minister for Disability’s carer awards ceremony on Monday, and I was pleased to see the work of carers being acknowledged at least in some way.

More specifically, however, I would like to mention the narrower scope that was celebrated on Monday. Really, Carers Week is about recognising the unpaid work done by family and friend carers in our community. Whilst there are many wonderful and hardworking paid support workers in this state, including my own, this is about those who labour many hours a day every day on a primarily voluntary basis.

Carers SA states that more than 220,000 South Australians currently provide care and support for a member of their family or a friend who may have a disability or mental illness, and who may be frail or aged, have a chronic condition or be recovering from an injury or other illness. Without these people, society—indeed, this state—could not function as it does. Access Economics has calculated that the value of informal carers in South Australia in 2010 amounted to $3.2 billion.

In particular, I would like to pay tribute to those carers who often provide 24-hour support to a family member with high care needs. They are truly the unsung heroes in our community. As Carers SA points out, these carers are:

…often assisting with daily needs and activities like feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, lifting and moving and administering medications. These carers give comfort, encouragement and reassurance to the person they care for, oversee their health and wellbeing, monitor their safety and help them stay as independent as possible. Carers help their family members to have a good quality of life…

I have many constituents who are carers for family members, both adult and under 18, who require intensive and ongoing support so that their loved one can experience many of the things in life that the rest of us may take for granted: daily showering, three meals a day, excursions such as shopping or going to the beach, educational or training opportunities—the list goes on and on. The unmet needs list in this state means that respite opportunities for carers are often too few and far between, and those under the most stress have the least ability to access this service.

As this is Anti-Poverty Week, it is also of great concern to me to see the number of carers in this state living at or below the poverty line. The nature of being an unpaid carer often inhibits the carer’s ability to work regular hours or enough hours to remain in the workforce at all, therefore preventing them from earning a liveable wage and often compromising their own—as well as that of their family—ability to pay the bills, let alone lead a complete and fulfilling life. More than 50 per cent of primary carers live on low incomes.

In addition to this, carers’ personal relationships often suffer due to the emotional hardship created by caring duties. It is no secret that the relationships of parents of children with severe disabilities often break down due to the stress created by navigating the disability support services system and figuring out the challenges they face along the way.

According to the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, carers’ wellbeing is often the lowest of any large group. The responsibility bestowed upon carers in their role can be both physically and emotionally taxing. I look forward to continuing my advocacy for carers and their families in the coming years and commend them for the valuable role they play in this state.