Many older people would prefer to stay in their own homes as they age. To do this, some may require the support of their spouse, family or friends. Even though they may not recognise the term themselves, these support people are known as ‘informal carers’ by government bodies and service providers, to distinguish them from people who are employed or engaged to provide aged care services.
Informal carers provide an invaluable support to older Australians and are critical to the sustainability of the aged care system. In 2020, Deloitte Access Economics estimated the replacement value of unpaid care at nearly $80 billion.
It was pleasing that the federal government supported the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to create a ‘Respite Supports’ category to provide a greater range and higher quality of respite for the carers of older people.
The government also agreed to provide additional funding for the Carer Gateway to improve connections between assessors and carers.
While caring for a friend or loved one can be extremely rewarding and life-fulfilling, it can also have significant implications on the informal carer’s health, wellbeing and financial security.
Making respite available for informal carers allows them to take a well-earned break while their loved one is provided in-home, overnight or day cottage respite, or a period of respite in a residential aged care home.
It is important that informal carers are encouraged to have some respite and time to themselves, in order to keep well, so that they can continue to look after their loved one, rather than not being able to cope.
Informal carers are an integral part of the aged care system, as they provide the physical and emotional support that enables people to live in their own home for longer.
Adequate respite for informal carers is crucial to the future sustainability of the aged care sector. As a society we should be supporting those who are supporting others, often at great personal and financial cost.
Opinion piece by Darren Birbeck
Chief Executive Officer