21 September, 2012
Fairness at last for family carers?
Government opens consultation about paying carers
Carers NZ and the Carers Alliance of more than 40 national not for profits have welcomed the Government's launch of a consultation asking family carers, disabled people, and society whether and how to pay those who provide care at home. But they are concerned that the consultation document sends the wrong messages.
"It's great that the Government is seeking input about how the work of carers can be fairly recognised, but its consultation document is unfriendly to carers and is worded to almost make them feel guilty if they say they'd like some financial help," says Carers Alliance chairman John Forman.
"The principles behind whatever payment policy emerges should be fair and positive for everyone, and recognise that those caring for someone who is over the age of 18 are doing so on a voluntary basis. If the current and future governments want Kiwis to continue to provide care, the policy needs to make them feel valued, recognised, and that their own wellbeing matters."
The consultation follows the Government's decision not to appeal its latest court loss, which affirmed previous decisions that it is discriminatory not to pay family members on the same basis as formal services for the same work.
According to Census 2006, more than 420,000 New Zealanders provide support at home for ill, elderly, disabled, or seriously injured loved ones.
Carers NZ chair Roger Palairet says caring is something families have always done for love and duty, but the economic value of this work has been taken for granted.
"The court action arose because carers are no longer willing to be exploited - the feelings of love and duty are as strong as ever, but these days carers also need to earn a living to sustain themselves and their families, something that's difficult if someone in your household relies on you to provide significant support."
The tensions of juggling work and care are now obvious in society, with many carers feeling they need to give up paid employment to care, he says.
"It is important that we focus on solutions rather than perfecting the excuses for treating people unfairly."
Carers NZ is the national peak body for carers and works closely with dozens of other not for profits in the Carers Alliance, which lobbies for recognition and policy progress for New Zealand's growing population of family caregivers.
Mr Forman says despite a 2008 Carers' Strategy and five year Action Plan, systemic supports for carers have not progressed as quickly as they need to if New Zealand wants its citizens to continue to make the choice to care for vulnerable loved ones.
Two thirds of New Zealand carers experience depression, almost 40% receive injuries in their role, and a 2010 Auckland University study found that of 300 carers interviewed, less than 10 were able to participate in paid work outside the home. A Carers NZ survey last year found that 46% of carers have health and disability needs of their own, while providing support to others.
Family carers are the country's biggest health workforce, and most will not expect to receive payment for providing modest support for loved ones who need assistance to continue living at home, says Mr Forman.
"We hope any new policy will genuinely support those who are providing a lot of care, as their lives are significantly impacted by their decision to put someone else first. We have been asking some New Zealanders to care too much, and not giving them adequate recognition for what can be a 24/7 job. That's what the court decisions were about."
He says New Zealand will be the first country in the world to introduce a payment policy for family carers of disabled people, depending on the outcome of the public consultation and subsequent government decision-making.
"We can either have a mean-spirited punitive approach and offer the bare minimum, or we can be progressive and innovative and try hard to ensure that carers and those they support have better lives as a result of any new policy. Since every New Zealander will give or receive family care during our lives, let's all hope it's the latter."
Carers NZ has submitted some basic principles for government to consider that it believes should underpin any new policy about paying carers.
"Sadly, the primary principle the consultation document promotes is how much care families can be expected to provide for nothing," says Mr Palairet.
Carers Alliance Chair
Phone 027 240 3377
Carers NZ Chair
Phone 027 276 1146