Better pay just the first step to ensuring quality care

Care pay conditions

Most Australians consider care work is rewarding and fulfilling, but very few believe that pay and conditions in the care sector are any good, according to new research released by the Australian National University (ANU).

The findings shed light on Australians’ attitudes towards work in the care industry and are based on responses from a representative sample of 1,035 people across all states and territories.

Even with the pay increase for aged care workers confirmed in the recent federal Budget, conditions for workers in the care and support sector, which comprises disability support and childcare services as well as aged care, remain a concern for many Australians.

The devaluing of care work over many years has had devastating impacts for both care workers and care recipients, said lead author ANU Crawford School of Public Policy’s Dr Laura Davy.

“Less than three in 10 Australians we surveyed believe paid care work provides fair work conditions, and only one in five said they thought care work provides good pay,” Dr Davy said. 

“We want to provide the highest standards of care and support to Australians who need it, and providing fair pay and conditions to care workers is a critical part of this equation.”

A quarter of survey respondents said they might consider working in the care services sector in the future. This rose to 30% amongst those aged 35 to 49 years and 35% among 18 to 34 year olds.

Men were also more likely to indicate that they would consider care work in the future.

In recent years the sector has faced increasing demand, severe workforce shortages and criticism over the quality and safety of services. Despite this, the survey findings showed there was potential for the care sector to evolve, said study co-author Professor Ariadne Vromen.

“Growth in the need for care work, particularly in aged care and disability services, is creating new job opportunities, and we could see more young people and more men moving into this traditionally feminised area of work,” Professor Vromen said. 

“But if jobs continue to be insecure and low paid, it will be hard to attract people to these industries, let alone ensure that clients of disability and aged care services in Australia are receiving the high-quality support they are entitled to.”

The survey also provides insight into the experiences of Australia’s informal carers during the pandemic, with most people performing caregiving roles reporting increased levels of stress and isolation.

These were particularly high among women carers, younger carers and people with more intensive caring roles – groups who were also the least able to access support from their employers and informal networks.

“As a society, we really need to reform our workplaces, politics and attitudes to recognise the reality of care and the important place it has in many people’s lives and relationships,” Dr Davy said. 

“Carers need more support to balance caring roles with paid work, including flexible work arrangements and access to affordable high-quality childcare, aged care, disability support, after-school and vacation care.

“By investing in formal support services and promoting flexible work and paid leave for working carers, the government can strengthen Australia’s care infrastructure and improve the lives and wellbeing of all of those who provide and receive support.”

The full report is available via the ANU Open Research Repository.

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