The coronavirus pandemic upended every aspect of our lives, regardless of our circumstances. As this week is National Carers Week, it's timely to recognise and celebrate the contribution that unpaid carers made to flattening the COVID curve and defending some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Many of Tasmania's 85,000-plus carers locked-down their own homes and decided to forego helpful services to protect the loved ones they care for.
The 2020 Carers Tasmania Road to Recovery: COVID-19 Survey of over 400 carers revealed the extent of how carers helped to flatten the curve. The survey found 73 per cent of carers were caring for someone in a high-risk category, with just under half of carers in a similar category themselves. Over half of carers stated they did not have other family to help and less than half have a contingency plan in place.
In April, The Examiner reported on the concerns that carers in Northern Tasmania faced. While everybody was forced to lockdown, carers were hit additionally hard with reduced access to medical appointments and in-home supports. Carers were forced to take on additional responsibilities, with 40 per cent of carers saying they increased time spent caring. Carers also faced increased cost of living, with 40 per cent reporting that their expenses had increased following locking down their homes.
A report by Deloitte Access Economics on The Value of Informal Care in 2020 estimated there are 2.8 million carers nationally providing 2.2 billion hours of care per annum. For 906,000 of these carers, they provide over 35 hours of care each and every week. These numbers were based on pre-COVID data, and are assumed to be even higher given the nature of caring through a pandemic.
One cohort of carers who often go unmentioned are those under 25-years old, including in some cases where children as young as five and six are in a caring role. Young carers account for around 9 per cent of Tasmania's 85,000 carers. Of these, it is estimated that one in twenty-seven (1:27) of school students are carers (that's one in every classroom).
Research indicates that these young carers face social issues at school, as well as often falling behind their peers academically. Throughout 2020, young carers have had to cope with home schooling, and with the increased demands of providing unpaid care within the family context. Across the spectrum of ages and circumstances, without carers stepping-up it would not have been possible for many vulnerable people to be protected. Instead of becoming a COVID statistic, carers have ensured these family members are protected and supported.
The theme of Carers Week 2020 is 'why you care' and we are encouraging carers to tell their story. Given that one in six Tasmanians are caring for somebody - chances are you are a carer, require a carer or know a carer. Reach out to one and let them know you appreciate them.
- David Brennan is chief executive of Carers Tasmania.
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