I have a ‘good fairy’ friend who flits by at least once a month. I never know exactly when she is coming, or what she will bring with her, or if I will see her, or just a little gift in my mail box as evidence of her fleeting presence. Sometimes her gifts are delicious edibles and, other times, she comes with her window washing wand or her car washing wand. One of my favourites is her silver polishing wand. Last month, she came with the gift of the company of her daughter and her 5 month old grand-daughter. It was wonderful fun to have a baby in the house again; especially one that only required admiration and smiles from me.
Last week my ‘good fairy’ friend arrived on my doorstep with a wandful of magazines. In amongst the ‘usuals’, like North and South, was a magazine I had not encountered before called FamilyCARE.
It was a fascinating read BUT I was completely stunned to learn from its pages that there are 420,000 (plus) unpaid family carers in New Zealand and that 10% of New Zealand’s 15 to 24 year olds are unpaid carers of family members. That’s a very large unpaid work force for a small country like New Zealand.
That got me thinking, and googling, about family carers in other countries, and that is when my jaw really hit the floor.
In Australia, there are 2.6 million unpaid family carers; 300,000 of them are under the age of 24; 520,000 are over the age of 65. In 2010, these carers provided an estimated 1.32 billion hours of care. The estimated replacement value of their caring roles was $A 40.9 billion in 2012. Yes, we are talking in BILLIONS.
The situation is much the same in the UK where there are an estimated 6.4 million unpaid family carers providing services valued at £119 billion per year. Again, we are talking BILLIONS .
In the USA, there are 65.7 million family caregivers; or 29% of the adult population caring for one or more family members.
The numbers are staggering, and growing yearly, as populations age and social services grow leaner and meaner. In the UK , the lean meanness seems to extend to the introduction of a strange creature called the Bedroom Tax which, somehow, relates a person’s benefit to the number of bedrooms the Government authorities believe an individual requires. Huh??? I hope the idea doesn’t catch on in New Zealand which is already far too keen to cut and paste (or is it slash and burn?) its social welfare programmes in to a more eye-catching, voter friendly system.
In both Australia and the UK, there appears to be some provision for a small allowance for family carers but that is not, currently, the case in New Zealand. Most family carers, wherever they are, undertake their caring duties willingly, and with great devotion, and little complaint. Never the less, surveys show that there are often huge physical, mental and financial costs incurred by family carers which, eventually, will need to be borne by yet more family members or Government support agencies. Where does it end? What is to be done?
Carers’ organisations are working hard to support family caregivers. Are Governments listening? It’s hard to believe so, when we see the screws being tightened on social policies worldwide, whilst the purses open for banks and motorways and big business, and goodness knows what else that is supposed to enrich our lives. Wouldn’t it be amazing, bordering on miraculous, if a Government were to come forward and say to its family carers, “Why, thank you, good people, for giving millions of dollars worth of service to your country, without which our economy and health services would crumble.” Whilst millions wait, with little hope, for an official vote of thanks, we can take matters into our own hands and thank and bless all those who take care of another. In that category, I will put my ‘good fairy’ friend. She has done her share of caring over the years.