When Crystie Oatley looks at the pay packet for her 10-year-old son’s support worker, she wonders what her bank balance might look like if she was paid that money instead.
- There is a growing push to compensate carers for time out of the workforce with credits to their superannuation
- Women on average have 42 per cent less superannuation at retirement than men, which equates to a gap of about $114,000
- The Human Rights Commission previously recommended the Productivity Commission investigate possible financial models for carer credits
For this mother, from Yamba on the NSW north coast, caring for Zac — who has quadriplegia and cerebral palsy — is a full-time job.
“During the night [he] needs rolling. Normally his dad and I do that all night long,” she said.
“Then he wakes up, he needs dressing, he needs feeding. He basically relies on us.”
The family’s finances are stretched so thin Ms Oatley works three part-time and casual jobs just to keep the bills paid.
She has even had to start her own campaign to help fund medical equipment Zac will need after an upcoming operation.
“We’ve taken out a personal loan before to get him an electric wheelchair.
“We no longer have the wheelchair because it’s broken but we still have the personal loan.”
So for her there’s no mental space to even contemplate retirement earnings, and superannuation is an entirely distant concept.
“You don’t even have time to look forward to when you get older,” Ms Oatley said.
Ms Oatley said she did not know how much she had in super, but she knew it was not much.
She is one of many women whose superannuation accounts are reduced because of their years out of the workforce caring for a family member.
Women on average have 42 per cent less superannuation at retirement than men, which equates to a gap of about $114,000.
Some of this is attributed to their time out of the workforce looking after others, with 70 per cent of primary carers being women.
It also means they have less opportunity to grow their careers and pay packets.
But there is a growing push to compensate carers for this time out of the workforce with carer credits to their superannuation.
This is when governments pay superannuation on carer and parenting payments or supplement superannuation accounts to recognise carers’ work looking after children, people with a disability or elderly relatives.
In 2013 the Human Rights Commission recommended the Productivity Commission or a similar body investigate possible financial models for carer credits.
This was supported by a 2016 Senate inquiry which also called for the Government to look at options.
The inquiry heard that one woman at age 52 had just $19 in her superannuation account after a lifetime of caring for family members.
Since that Senate inquiry, there has been little progress on the issue.
The Productivity Commission said it had not been asked by the Government to investigate the issue.
Australia lagging behind world on carer credits
Women’s peak group Economic Security4Women reignited the idea of carer credits in a recent white paper.
The group’s members have been in Canberra lobbying both sides of politics to consider policies to improve women’s finances.
Economist Stephen Koukoulis authored the white paper and said carer credits made economic sense.
“It actually encourages people to spend more time looking after their dependent-aged parents or disabled family member at home and that actually does save the taxpayer a considerable amount of money,” he said.
“If those people are placed in some sort of government-sponsored institution the cost to the taxpayer is quite phenomenal. We know that from NDIS and aged care.”
Academic Dr Myra Hamilton from the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre said Australia was lagging behind other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, which had a long history of paying carer credits in various forms.
“In fact, most of the countries that have had carer credits for decades have actually spent the last few decades trying to strengthen their schemes,” she said.
Other countries with schemes include Canada, Japan and Denmark.
Mr Koukoulis is optimistic on some progress on the issue in the near-future.
“We may see some solutions in the lead-up to the election campaign,” he said.
Labor committed $400 million to pay superannuation to parents while they take parental leave, but Dr Hamilton said this was really only the first step and the “easiest” one.
In response to the Senate inquiry, the Coalition said it had extended the spouse tax offset for those who contributed to the superannuation of a low-income-earning partner.
It was also allowing people with low superannuation balances to carry forward their concessional cap for five years, which effectively allowed those with interrupted work patterns to “catch up”.
Carers’ ongoing concerns
Carers NSW said a state-wide survey of more than 1,800 carers in 2018 found many had concerns about how little superannuation they had because of the limits on their working life
“Carers NSW believes the introduction of ‘caring credits’ would contribute to a more financially fit future for many of the 2.7 million unpaid carers across Australia,” Carers NSW chief Elena Katrakis said.
While Ms Oatley appreciated the help of her support worker, she wonders how better off her family would be if she received more financial help.
“If my caring was put into an hourly rate wage we’d be definitely in a different situation,” she said.
For Ms Oatley and her husband, their financial goal is simply to own their own home, but it’s not for themselves, it’s so they can modify it to suit Zac.
Given they are still renting, it’s likely the only way they will achieve that is with their super payouts, they just hope it’s enough.