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UC study finds regional carers struggle compared to city dwellers

Marcus Butler

11 July 2017: Carers in regional and rural Australia are finding it even harder than those in the city to access many forms of support, according to findings of the University of Canberra’s 2016 Regional Wellbeing Survey.

The survey is Australia’s largest into the wellbeing of people living in rural and regional communities with 13,200 participants last year.

It’s the first time the survey, which began in 2013, has examined the experiences of carers with results showing that those living in regional areas had fewer places to turn to for help.

University of Canberra lead author, Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer said carers living in more remote regions experience more financial stress than those based in the city.

“When we asked people about their access to carer support services we found that many living in regional areas had no places to turn for respite care, supportive GPs, home or financial support,” Dr Schirmer said.

“We also found that younger carers aged 30-49 years had higher rates of financial stress, psychological distress, social isolation, and poor wellbeing. This period is typically where people are raising their own family or find themselves sandwiched between their work and role as a carer.”

According to the survey, 15 per cent of Australians in regional areas are caring for someone, although the figure is higher for women (17 per cent). Those aged 50-64 years had the highest proportion of carers at 19 per cent.

Dr Schirmer said it was important to note that not all carers reported negative experiences in the survey. She stressed that more needs to be done to understand the factors which make being a carer a more positive experience.

“Older carers looking after elderly partners, relatives or friends reported fewer negative impacts, and better access to support services, many of which specifically target this cohort,” she said.

She added that it was important to recognise and acknowledge the contributions being made by all carers.

“Taking the time to tell carers how much we appreciate their efforts and the dedication they show to the people they care for is a small step to improving their experience and wellbeing.”

A copy of the Carers report from the Regional Wellbeing Survey is available online.


Who we are caring for

  • 36 per cent of carers were caring for someone with a medical condition such as a long term illness.
  • 34 per cent were caring for someone with old-age related health problems.
  • 33 per cent were caring for a person with a permanent disability other than mental illness or dementia.
  • 27 per cent were caring for someone with a mental illness.
  • 12 per cent were caring for a person with dementia.
  • Seven per cent cared for a person with drug or alcohol addiction/dependency.

Support for carers

  • Access to respite care decreased the more remote the region a carer lived in: 32 per cent of those living in major cities had good access to respite care, compared to 23 per cent of those in inner regional areas, 22 per cent in outer regional areas, and 14 per cent of those living in remote and very remote regions.
  • 30 per cent of carers had good access to counselling; the poorest access was reported by those living in remote and very remote regions, with 52 per cent reporting no access and only 21 per cent having good access.
  • 44 per cent of carers had good support from family or friends, 30 per cent had limited support, and 21 per cent had no support. Those most likely to have no support were carers in remote regions (36 per cent) and those aged 30-49 (25 per cent).

Financial stress

  • 29 per cent of carers were unable to pay one or more bills on time in the last year, compared to 18 per cent of non-carers. Female carers are more likely to face financial stress; 33 per cent of female carers had been unable to pay bills compared to 20 per cent of male carers.
  • 13 per cent of carers had gone without meals or been unable to heat or cool their home in the last year, compared to seven per cent of non-carers.

Other wellbeing issues

  • 14 per cent of carers reported psychological distress levels above the threshold indicating probable serious mental illness, compared to nine per cent of non-carers.
  • The poorest wellbeing was reported by those who were caring for people with drug or alcohol addiction or dependency, followed by those caring for people with mental illness.