George Helon is one of many unpaid carers in Australia struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living soars.
For almost two decades, Helon has been caring for his mother Elizabeth, who is 79 years of age and has Lewy body dementia, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
The Toowoomba-based carer has his own health concerns, which is why he’s on the Disability Support Pension, which has an upper limit of $987.60 a fortnight.
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This means he’s not eligible for what’s called the Carer Payment, which is a $987.60-a-fortnight income- and asset-tested payment aimed at people who give up their job to look after an aged, infirm or disabled person full-time.
He is, however, eligible for a Carer Allowance. This payment of $136.50 a fortnight is designed to help people with the costs of daily care, such as medication and fuel to drive to appointments.
Amounting to just 41 cents an hour, Helon said the payment was not enough to manage the rising costs of living, forcing him to dip into his own savings.
“The money that I'm getting does not even keep the car on the road now based on my costs this year,” he said, pointing to the rising costs of fuel as a contributing factor.
His mother also receives some government support, and has been approved for an aged care services package. However, Helon said gap fees, which are charged for most services, add up quickly.
“My savings are almost kaput now,” he said.
“When my mother passes away, they’ll take me straight off the $136.50 payment and I'll be left with no money in the bank and destitute because I looked after my mother.
“I'm going to be penalised for that.”
People on the $987.60-a-fortnight Carer Payment also typically sacrifice significant income if they give up their full-time job.
“If you were a primary income earner in your household earning $70,000 and you got on the Carer Payment, you've actually lost two-thirds of your household income,” Helon said.
He has called on the Government to stop gap fees and co-payments, and to double the Carer Allowance.
Helon and some other frustrated carers have launched a petition calling on the Prime Minister and the Federal government to recognise the critical role carers play in society, especially those only receiving the Carer Allowance.
Carers taking a financial hit
A new report released by Carers Australia found carers missed out on an average of $567,000 in lost income and superannuation.
Australian carers forfeit on average $392,500 in lost wages until age 67 and miss out on a further $175,000 in superannuation.
In the most extreme circumstances, the damage adds up to well over $1 million, with the the most affected 10 per cent going without $940,000 in lifetime income, and $444,500 in superannuation.
Carers Australia acting chief executive officer Melanie Cantwell said the negative financial impact of caring was worse than the organisation expected.
“What we didn’t anticipate was the figures, and how much carers can lose in lifetime earnings and superannuation, more so the younger they are when commencing their primary caring role,” she said.
With an election approaching, Carers Australia national director policy and strategy Kelly Gourlay said the organisation was hoping to see the elected party commission a Productivity Commission review into unpaid care.
This would ideally include a review of the Carer Payment and Carer Allowance, and would also recommend ways to incentivise carers to participate in the workforce, education and training, without affecting carers who cannot work.
“It's always a fine line there, when you put incentives in place, to not take away choice,” Gourlay said.
The organisation would also like the Productivity Commission to consider the merits of superannuation guarantees and pension credits.
Gourlay said the reality was that when people missed out on superannuation, they were likely to remain on welfare for longer.
“When their caring role ends, for whatever reason, that leaves them in a very difficult position and they are likely to be on other forms of welfare in the longer term,” she said.
She said carers were also saving the Government a lot of money it would otherwise have to spend on formalised care.
In fact, if all the carers suddenly stopped working, it would cost the Government around $77.9 billion a year to replace them.