A juggling act: Older carers and paid work in Australia

This report presents the latest evidence in Australia on the issues facing older carers who are in the workforce or would like to be working.

The number of mature age Australians balancing work and informal caring roles will increase in the future. This will be driven by the policy objective of transferring the care of older people on to families, and by the increasing labour force participation, particularly of women.

The care of elderly people presents different challenges to the care of children: the care burden increases with age, the person receiving care may not live with the carer, and care needs can be unexpected and difficult to plan for.

Evidence shows that people who combine caring and working face many adverse consequences, including absences from the workforce, difficulties developing skills, financial stress, and poor physical and mental health.

Recent legislative changes in Australia provide older carers with the right to request flexible work arrangements, such as flexible work hours and days, job sharing and working from home. However, there is a lack of data to determine how beneficial these flexible work options are to carers.

This report presents the latest evidence in Australia on the extent to which caring responsibilities prevent people from working, the issues faced by carers in the workforce or looking for work, and possible factors that would enable them to work at all or work more hours.

Data and methods

  • This report uses data from the 2011–12 Barriers to Employment for Mature Age Australians Survey, which involved 3,007 respondents aged between 45 and 74 years.
  • Findings from the key variables are presented according to characteristics of the carer and the care recipient. Multivariate analysis was used to analyse some indicators.

Findings

Among people aged 45–74 years, 28% provided care for someone; 17% cared for a child and 11% cared for an adult, and 55% provided care for 20 or more hours per week. Of these carers, 31% had an illness, injury or disability themselves and 49% provided care to someone with a long-term illness or disability. Women and carers who had an illness, injury or disability themselves were most likely to be providing care to someone with a long-term illness or disability.

  • Care-giving responsibilities prevented 47% of non-employed carers of adults from working. Those most likely to be affected were carers with a low level of education and those caring for a person with a longterm illness or disability.
  • Carers who had an illness, injury or disability were highly likely to experience some form of exclusion in the workplace or while looking for work.
  • Of those whose caring responsibilities prevented them from working or working more hours, 60% stated that this had affected their ability to accumulate superannuation.
  • Skill development is an issue for carers; 42% stated that they wanted to attend work-related training but could not.
  • Of those non-employed carers whose caring prevented them from working, 61% (or 169,295 people) said they would be able to work for an average of 18 hours per week if flexible work arrangements were available. This would increase the number of employed people aged 45–74 years by 4%, assuming all were able to find employment.
  • Of those part-time employed carers whose caring prevented them from working more hours 49% (or 135,242 people) said they would be able to work more hours if flexible work arrangements were available.
  • Of those non-employed carers whose caring prevented them from working, 46% (or 169,295 people) stated that they would be able to work if suitable external care were available.

Discussion

  • Caring responsibilities prevent many older carers from working at all or working more hours. People who care for adults are likely to be caring for a person with a long-term health condition, and this brings many challenges for people wishing to combine work and caring responsibilities. Many carers face exclusion in the labour market, suffer illness, injury or disability themselves, face difficulties in accumulating superannuation, and experience difficulties developing work-related skills.
  • More accessible flexible work arrangements are believed to help carers to work. The effect of recent legislative changes on labour force participation will, therefore, be of much interest
  • Other assistance, such as practical help with legal and financial matters, can also help carers to join or remain in the workforce. Population ageing means that future care for the elderly could pose a greater issue than childcare for both workers and employers.

Click here to access the report summary.

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