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Nearly half a million people in Australia see themselves as 'primary carers', providing unpaid assistance to others with a severe or profound level of disability, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Carers in Australia: assisting frail older people and people with a disability shows that in 1998, 70% of 490,000 primary carers were women, with females aged between 35 and 64 years making up nearly half (47%) of the total number.
AIHW report author Ms Cathy Hales says that although fewer men are primary carers, men and women are more equally represented at ages 75 years and over.
'We also see the impact of close family relationships on carer arrangements with nearly half (43%) of all primary carers looking after a spouse or partner, 25% caring for a parent and 21% caring for a son or daughter with a disability, with the remainder caring for another relative or friend.'
One in two primary carers are spending 20 hours per week or more providing care, with 1 in 3 providing over 40 hours of care per week, and this has a considerable impact on their ability to carry out paid employment, says Ms Hales.
'Labour force participation rates are substantially lower among primary carers of working age, with less than half being in paid employment as well as undertaking their caring role. Only 22% were in full-time paid work in 1998.'
In terms of future trends, says Ms Hales, an ageing population means there is likely to be an increase in those people who need assistance from just over 1 million in 1998 to 1.4 million by 2013.
The report looks at four possible scenarios relating to the potential number of primary carers available up to 2013.
'The most optimistic outlook is that we have over 600,000 primary carers by 2013. The ageing of the baby boomer generation will see large numbers of women moving into traditional primary carer age groups during this period. This growth will offset the decrease in the number of carers associated with higher rates of female workforce participation.
'On the other hand,' says Ms Hales, 'in the worst case scenario, we could witness a reduction in the number of people willing to become primary carers. This in turn could have a significant impact on the demand for services provided by government and non-government organisations.'
In any case, meeting the needs of growing numbers of carers who may be juggling multiple caring responsibilities as well as paid work is likely to require the focused attention of families, communities, employers and government in the years ahead.
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