Tax justice for unpaid carers


Last week the political leaders were brawling over assistance payments for middle-class Australians. Tony Abbott promised 'tax justice for families' by removing indexation from the health insurance rebate and other payments. Julia Gillard considers this 'middle class welfare', but is determined to protect Labor's own generous school kids bonus. Abbott calls this a 'cash splash' that is 'totally unrelated to education' because it does not require recipients to submit receipts.

The spectacle of the leaders' fight for the votes of middle Australia dominated last week's media. Little attention was given to a Human Rights Commission report that highlighted the ongoing need to reward Australia's 5.5 million unpaid carers.

Investing in care: Recognising and valuing those who care focuses on the personal sacrifices of those who care for parents, in-laws, children, grandchildren and others in our community with disability, chronic illness or frailty due to old age. There is no 'tax justice' for these families, according to the Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

'The failure of our superannuation and taxation systems, alone, to recognise this contribution and provide a value for this unpaid work means that carers — mostly women who have had long and repeated absences from paid employment, find they have negligible retirement savings and indeed, often retire in poverty.'

Unpaid carers include both parents and guardians of children as well as those who care for a family member or friend with disability, chronic illness or frailty due to older age. The first group are better provided for, although grandparents who spend many hours providing free childcare may beg to differ. It is the carers of those with lifelong chronic conditions who find themselves working as virtual slaves.

As the report points out, they lack the ability to provide for their own old age, when they may not be fortunate enough to have a family member to care for them. In addition, their activity does not fulfil the Catholic 'moral obligation to link industriousness as a virtue with the social order of work, which will enable man to become, in work, "more a human being" and not be degraded by it'.

The report's recommendations include legislation to assist unpaid carers with mechanisms like carer assessments to determine their support needs, and carer cards securing access to services and entitlements which would allow them to participate in society on a more equal footing. There is also a call for reform to the current system of retirement income and savings, including the age pension and superannuation that is currently tied to paid work.

It is disingenuous to talk about 'tax justice for families', or to be providing a school kids bonus that does not require accountability, without also seeking to provide for those whose support needs fall outside established assistance mechanisms. It's time that voters showed signs that they are prepared to reward genuine leaders more than those whose handouts are politically calculated.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Elizabeth Broderick, unpaid carers, Human Rights Commission



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Existing comments

A timely and insightful piece, Michael. Elizabeth Broderick and the HRC are to be highly commended for this report. One of the problems with an overly "aspirational" society is that it can ignore its more deserving "invisible" members, such as carers, who are not a powerful bloc of voters. Superannuation is a self-serving industry of its own, which tends to fund the careers of those within it, rather than taking a proactive national outreach to those who might really need it, rather than those with high incomes. Carers are often not visibly different from anyone else. We need to, as a society, really "see" where supposedly "invisible" poverty and need are. There has always been a general Australian sense of social justice and concern which transcends narrow ethnicity or confessionalism. It would be an awful pity if we lost it.

Edward F | 03 February 2013  

Thank you Michael.As a nurse I see the strain on carers, and the vulnerable they care for.We cannot continue to expect a high standard of living simply by privatising or marketing care.National savings and profits are very subjective and misleading.....governments rely on unpaid carers to carry the huge cost, and give lip service to ALL volunteers. The wealthy have gleaned their assets by keeping costs at a minimum, when they should be giving back to those build this social cohesion.......we are not islands and rely on each other for peace and stability without which no one can prosper.

Catherine | 04 February 2013  

This is a very important issue. Having cared for my mother (with 2 of my siblings) who suffered from MND for over 34 years I could not work full time. Hence my career opportunities were severely limited as was my ability to accumulate Superannuation, Many others who care for children, spouses or parents with disabilities do not have the time to work for pay at all so it is imperative that they receive the same super benefits from the government as those in paid employment. This would be fair & just as they like all in paid employment are working very hard & under much more stressful conditions.

Mary O'Byrne | 04 February 2013  

"It is disingenuous to talk about 'tax justice for families', or to be providing a school kids bonus that does not require accountability,". But it is fine to pour taxmonies into propping up car companies that produce cars no one wants? Or to allow companies to go broke making no provision for LSL, annual leave, sick pay, wages, superannuation, while the taxpayer is now (care of Howard) paying a portion of this money to workers? What about all the tax dodges the wealthy engage in, legally? And what of the funds to private schools, where absolutely no requirement exists to explain how this money is spent? There are many examples of 'injustice' when it comes to handing out, or not, tax monies, why be so selective in picking on the student one?

janice wallace | 04 February 2013  

Some good points Michael, and you are right to question both major parties on their positions. But I'm with Catherine and Janice, and if the Coalition form government later this year, then expect to see even more handouts and middle-class welfare for the 'yummy mummy' set and those who conform to the coalition's view of what is socially acceptable and desirable. Expect also to see further deterioration in investment in social assets of whatever form, be they hardware, social support systems, or access to affordable health, education, and justice.

Ginger Meggs | 04 February 2013  

If we implement everything the social justice gurus and commissions such as the Human Rights Commission propose, who on Earth is going to do the work that pays the taxes from which all this unearned money will be paid? And if there are still any mugs left who are prepared to do paid work and pay taxes, is it not just that they should earn whatever they are prepared to work for and be entitled to save some of that in superannuation for their retirement and also be entitled to a government pension in light of the fact that they have provided all of the handout money to government through their taxes? Currently, if you work hard, pay your tax dues, provide a roof over your family's head, pay for your children's education and save for retirement, the chances are that you will not be entitled to a pension. Maximum pension and social benefits, however, are best achieved by doing none of the above and peeing all earnings up against a flamin' gum tree or donating them to the poker machines so that a working life has provided nothing other than self indulgence.There is no doubt that "hard times' may befall anyone and the time comes to almost all of us where a need to care for another or others arises. Most carers do so out of love not for money - what they do is thus priceless and it would be an insult to humanity to put on price on what a carer does. Once that is done it will be abused as the current carer's allowance is (not by all carers, of course, but certainly by the self interested). The need for government interference or support in these situations should be assessed and areas where financial help is required properly identified and commensurate financing made available. Putting a standard wage in place for a carer may often be insufficient and sometimes excessive. But the means test is "unjust", according to the equlity sayers. It is about time the Catholic Church's social justice gurus realised that Christ created all men equal, loves all equally, and does not have a 'preferential option for the poor' - such is impossible for the Christ they proclaim! Even the hard working man/woman who earns money and reaps benefits for using it wisely deserves equal social justice with those who do not. Not always easy to find acceptance of that in the practicalities of Catholic social justice policy.

john frawley | 04 February 2013  

As a St Vincent de P volunteer I call regularly onpeople who live in a v ery poor part of Melbourne who need assistance, including carers who often receive a carer's allowance plus ths Disability Support Pension paid to the disabled---often very comfortably. The biggest problem faced by most of them is unreasonably high rent demanded by "investment property" owners. Rental allowances they receive are grossly inadequate. A high percentage of these people are single mothers. The most harmful and uncharitable act in memory was the recent decision of the Gillard government to force single mothers, including many of my "clients" on to the dole,ie New Start Allowance once their youngest child reaches eight years of age. The government must know that a very high percentage of these mothers are unemployable.They couldn't get a job anywhere. Many of these people live in West Heidelberg in the electorate of Jenny Macklin who initiated this legislation to damage very poor people very severely. It was Macklin who then said she could live on $36 a day.

Bill Barry | 04 February 2013  

My wife and I are in this position,caring for an autistic child. She had to stop work altogether for ten years and now can only work in a position below her ability at a low pay rate. We see her sister's family with both parents working at wellpaid jobs with multiple investment homes and a million dollar home they live in, and see what could have been. We will be caring for our child for the rest of our lives. That is the reality and it would be nice to have some more support but we will get by. The bigger issue is our stress levels depression etc.

Frank S | 05 February 2013  

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