Informal carers are people who provide care to those who need it within the context of an existing relationship, such as a family member, a friend or a neighbour. The demands of the role often go beyond what would normally be expected of these relationships. People who need help may also receive formal services from government and other organisations.

The majority of informal carers are unpaid, although some may receive assistance through income support payments and other support services. For information on people who work as paid carers in the welfare sector, see Welfare workforce.

Informal carers and informal volunteers may be involved in similar forms of unpaid work, however, while some informal carers care for people living in the same household, informal volunteers provide unpaid support to people who are not family and do not live in the same household. For information on people who volunteer their time to help others, see Volunteers.

The type and level of informal care can vary considerably. This may relate to people’s physical function, mental health, an end-of-life health condition, old age or disability. An informal carer might carry out many tasks that paid services would otherwise provide, to help someone with showering, eating or shopping, provide in-home supervision, provide transport for moving about in the community, or carry out medical or therapeutic care.

How many people are informal carers?

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, in 2018 there were an estimated 2.65 million people (11% of Australians) who provided informal care in Australia (ABS 2019). More than one-third (35%, or an estimated 929,000 people) of all carers were aged 35–54 (average age was 51) (ABS 2019).

1 in 10 Australians are informal carers, the majority of whom do not receive government support payments.

In 2018, 1 in 3 carers (33% or an estimated 861,600 people) were primary carers, meaning they provided the most care to a person with disability in one or more core activities (self-care, mobility and communication) (ABS 2019). ‘Other informal carers’ are people who provided informal care to someone but were not their primary carer.

Primary carers are most commonly female (72%, compared with 50% of other informal carers in 2018). This varied further by age, with primary carers between the ages of 25 and 54 particularly likely to be female (81% of those aged 25–34, 82% of those aged 35–44, and 75% of those aged 45–54) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Proportion of all carers, primary carers and other carers, by sex and age group, 2018

The vertical bar chart shows the male-to-female distribution in each age group (under 15, then in 10-year groups to age 65 and over). The values are the proportion of people in each age group that are male and female, with the tool tip also showing the proportion of people, across 3 categories of carer type (primary and other, or all carers). The chart shows that primary carers are more likely to be female, particularly in the middle age groups, while other carers have a mostly balanced distribution between the sexes in each age group.

Source: ABS 2019.

Income support payments

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 is the primary income support payment (specific category of payments which serves as a person’s primary source of income) for people providing constant care for someone who has considerable needs due to disability, old age or ill health. As at 30 December 2022, around 303,500 people aged 16 and over received Carer Payment (DSS 2022). The number of people receiving Carer Payment has grown rapidly over the last 20 years, increasing from 57,800 in June 2001. For more information on long-term trends, see Carer Payment.

Of people receiving Carer Payment at 30 December 2022:

  • 4 in 5 (80%) were being paid the full rate of payment (meaning their assets and income were both below relevant thresholds)
  • almost half (49%) had been receiving the payment for 5 years or more
  • almost half (47%) had been on some form of income support for 10 years or more (DSS 2022).

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 disability, with a severe medical condition or who is frail aged. The Carer Allowance may be paid in addition to income support payments. At 30 December 2022, over 628,800 people received this allowance (DSS 2022).

The Carer Gateway is a program that provides free online and in-person services and support for unpaid carers. It was started in 2015 and was significantly expanded in 2019. Services currently available include peer support groups, online skills courses, counselling and access to emergency respite. In the 2021–22 Federal Budget the Government committed nearly $800 million towards increasing supports available to informal and family carers of older Australians, namely by increasing access to respite services and home support services. This amount included $103 million in additional funding for the Carer Gateway program. For more information see Department of Social Services Supporting Carers, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment

Carers and care receivers

This section presents selected data for Carer Payment recipients (the carer) and the people they provided care to (the care receiver). As at 30 December 2022, there were over 300,400 care receivers (people receiving care who qualify their carer for Carer Payment) (DSS 2022).

Age and sex

Around 7 in 10 Carer Payment recipients and care receivers were aged 45 and over (71% and 67%, respectively) (Figure 2). However, people receiving Carer Payment most commonly provided care to a person aged 65 and over (42%), with 16% providing care to a person aged 55–64 and 15% providing care to a child aged under 16.

Figure 2: Proportion of people receiving Carer Payment or care from Carer Payment recipients, by age group, December 2022

The bar chart shows the distribution by age group (under 16, then in 10-year groups to age 65 and over) for people who received the Carer Payment or for people who received care from Carer Payment recipients (selected via a button). The chart shows that people who received care from Carer Payment recipients were more likely to be in the youngest age group (under 16) or in the oldest age group (65 and over), with Carer Payment recipients more likely to be in the middle age groups.

Source: DSS 2022.

While the majority of Carer Payment recipients were female (71%), more than half (55%) of people receiving care from a Carer Payment recipient were male. This varied with age: males made up 70% of care receivers aged under 16, compared with 49% of those aged 65 and over (DSS 2022).

Medical conditions

The nature of care a person requires can affect the demands of the caring role. For example, someone with a physical disability may require a different kind of care compared with someone with a psychological disability.

As at 30 December 2022, for people receiving care from a Carer Payment recipient, the most commonly recorded primary medical condition was psychological/psychiatric (29%) and the second most common category was musculoskeletal and connective tissue (21%). These conditions varied by age (DSS 2022), for example:

  • Nearly 3 in 5 (58%) care receivers aged under 16 had a psychological/psychiatric primary medical condition. This proportion decreased with increasing age. For example, 38% of care receivers aged 35–44 and only 12% of care receivers aged 65 and over had this as their primary medical condition.
  • Musculoskeletal and connective tissue conditions increased with age. Only 1.1% of care receivers aged under 16 had this as their primary medical condition, with this proportion rising to 12% of those aged 35–44 and 33% among those aged 65 and over (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Primary medical conditions for care receivers of Carer Payment recipients, by age group, December 2022

The vertical bar chart shows the distribution of medical conditions in each age group (under 16, 16–20, 21–24, then in 10-year groups to age 65 and over) for people who received care from Carer Payment recipients. The chart shows that the proportion of care receivers who had a psychological or psychiatric condition was highest in the youngest age group and decreased steadily as age increased, while the proportion who had physical conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system or connective tissue was lowest in the youngest age group and increased steadily as age increased.

Source: DSS 2022.

Other support services

In addition to income support payments, services are available to support carers in other ways. Examples include meeting their needs in study and work and supporting them and the person they care for through counselling, help at home, transport or equipment. The Outcomes Framework for Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021–2031 lists support for informal carers of people with disabilities as a policy priority (DSS 2021).

Respite care is used by a range of people for different reasons. There may be barriers to accessing services such as cost, availability or lack of knowledge about availability. However, having someone else provide care for a few hours or a few days can sustain the informal carer in their caring responsibilities and support the caring relationship. In 2018, the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that 86% of carers reported no unmet need for respite care (ABS 2019).

Respite care

Respite care services are offered under different programs. For example:

  • The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) includes respite care, such as short-term accommodation and assistance, where it is considered a reasonable and necessary support.
  • The Commonwealth Home Support Programme offers centre-based, cottage and flexible respite services. In 2021–22, these were used by 14,700 people who had an informal carer (representing 35% of all respite users).
  • In residential aged care, respite stays of (generally) up to 63 days in a year are available. In 2021–22, there were 16,100 admissions to respite care for people who were living with family members (representing 19% of all respite admissions; noting that not all family members are informal carers). 

Impact of COVID-19 on informal carers

The 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 were in place throughout 2020, 2021 and early 2022, 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 First Nations people and Specialised supports for people with disability.

According to the ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, in November 2020, around 1 in 6 (16%) Australians aged 18 and over reported being an informal carer (ABS 2020). Between March 2020 and November 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
  • 22% changed their working arrangements (ABS 2020).

For more information on the impacts of COVID-19, see ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 survey.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on informal carers, see: