We believe the new government will look at Funded Family Care as it promised to before the election, to make it better and fairer for more carers. We have been engaging with the Government to encourage this as we embark on discussions about the upcoming third five-year Action Plan for the Carers’ Strategy.
The court decision aligning with the change of government brings new impetus to valuing and respecting the work of family caregivers, which has a conservative annual economic value of more than $10 billion (source Infometrics).
It is disrespectful to carers, two thirds of whom are women, that FFC has from our point of view been proactively NOT promoted by the last government. $23 million was appropriated to ensure family carers in intensive roles have the option of payment and we believe perhaps only a quarter of this is spent each year.
The Government lost the historic rights court cases about payment for carers, and these losses triggered the development of the FFC policy. Although government lost the cases, it won the outcome it seemingly wanted – limited access to payment by family carers — by controlling access to knowing about the FFC and to the funding appropriated to deliver it.
We believe that of the 1,600 carers allowed for in the appropriation only a few hundred actually receive it, most of whom get nothing like 40 hours a week even if they have 24/7 support roles.
They are only paid the minimum wage, which is disrespectful to carers who are often experts in the support they provide and invaluable members of care teams assisting people with high needs.
The current policy imposes an employment relationship on people with disabilities, for their parents or close loved ones, bringing a dynamic into households that is an unfair burden. Whether to have this relationship should be a choice, not the only option.
Spouses cannot get this payment, an archaic approach given the fluidity of modern relationships and the current old-fashioned interpretation of spouses being the first port of call for providing high levels of assistance before calling on state funds on the basis of ‘in sickness and in health’. Today most of these spouses are still women, juggling high mortgages with paid work and study. We live in a contemporary society and it is no longer appropriate for government to be the sole arbitrator of the terms of the social contract we all need to buy into – what are the responsibilities of families, government, society, and employers for those who through no fault of their own need assistance after an injury, a diagnosis, when someone is dying, or when they require assistance to live life due to a disability? The balance of fairness has changed in an era when people are living longer in the community due to medical advances, and longer lifespans. The complex issues of caregiving need a fresh new look reinforced by the Court of Appeal decision … it is just time to move our policies including the FFC into contemporary life and for us all to have the comfort of knowing that should we make the choice to leave paid employment to provide care for loved ones at an intensive level, we’ll be treated fairly and have the option of payment.
The FFC only applies to disability. The biggest population of carers are family members, often daughters, supporting older parents, and possibly more than one person in their family or whanau.
At a time when we are debating whether to raise the age of retirement, many women in middle age are not able to do this because they choose to care.
Caring is something we say we celebrate, recognise and value but we need to walk the walk for carers, and celebrate the Court decision because it underscores the need for this.
ACC is another area that often slips through the net because everyone focuses on health and disability. We are calling out ACC for assessing family carers receiving payment for their work, and having hours cut on the basis of many of their ‘tasks’ being judged in assessment to be ‘natural support’ that families should be expected to provide at no cost to the state. There is nothing natural about what some of these family carers are expected to deliver to save ACC money. We are gathering stories about this issue for the Minister’s attention, having had dialogue with ACC over many years to be fair when assessing clients and being the arbiter of what is natural support and what should fairly be paid for.
The whole system needs a reboot and we’re hoping the government, which pledged to do so pre-election, will follow through and deliver swiftly a better fairer FFC (since the money is already allowed for by Treasury) … and starts a sensible dialogue with families of all ages and situations about payment for those who make the decision to care for someone who needs significant levels of support.
The above underpins our new awareness campaign, She Cares, calling for better recognition, payment and support for the hundreds of thousands of New Zealand women who care for loved ones. It can be viewed here.