Government pledges support for grandparent carers
Approximately 3,900 grandparents on the Age Pension take over as the primary carers for their grandchildren when parents go back to work. A new government support benefit starting in July 2017 will provide a break when these hard-working carers need one.
The Turnbull government will support grandparents who are the primary carer for their grandchildren with government-subsidised child care, according to a media release this week from the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham.
This Jobs for Families child care package is part of the new Child Care Safety Net and will support an estimated 3,900 grandparents caring for 6,300 children. This will cost the government $20 million, but Minister Birmingham says it’s worth it.
Grandparents who are not pensioners will also be eligible to claim up to 100 hours of subsidised child care per fortnight, by making them exempt from the activity test for the child care subsidy. The activity test requires that parents are working a certain number of hours in order to claim subsidised child care – but most retirees (not all) are no longer working.
Why assistance for grandparents is much needed
This government decision has come out of extensive consultations with seniors groups across the country, Australian families, and the child care industry.
This is not a new problem. As early as 2003, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that there were 22,500 Australian families in which grandparents were the primary guardians for their grandchildren. So it’s good to see the government acting on it now.
The Council on the Ageing (COTA) raised concerns at the time that grandparents usually end up caring for their grandchildren because of a traumatic event or situation:
- A parent’s drug or alcohol abuse
- Relationship breakdown with parents, including child abuse
- Mental or physical illness of a parent
- Death of a parent
Grandparents then take on the responsibility for supporting their grandchildren’s financial, emotional, lifestyle, and educational needs. In 2014, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) reported that taking on the responsibility for children had the following stressful effects on a grandparent’s life:
- More than 70% of grandparent carers have incomes below national average and the majority rely on government payments such as income support, allowances, and the Age Pension.
- Many grandparents had to sell assets, draw down on savings, or re-enter employment, in order to afford their grandchildren’s needs.
- More than 90% of households received government assistance such as a Centrelink payment or carer allowance when raising their grandchildren. More than 1 in 3 grandparents reported difficulty in accessing this assistance, due to administrative red tape, disrespectful staff, lack of information regarding their entitlements, and the complexity of family relationships.
- 2 in 3 grandparents said they were feeling the effects of financial stress after having taken in their grandchildren. This increased among older grandparents, and even the 21% who were self-funded retirees reported financial stress.
Forced to work or forced to quit work
- 2 in 3 grandparents had reduce their working hours or retire early because of having to care for their grandchildren. This created a significant loss of income and superannuation.
- 1 in 3 grandparents had to return to work during their retirement because of financial stress, but this caused them considerable emotional and physical strain.
Forced to move house
- 4 in 5 grandparents were forced to modify their home or move house, usually causing significant financial expense.
- Close to 20% of grandparents wanted to modify their housing but were unable to because of financial stress, and so they were forced to continue living in unsuitable accommodation for children.
“Grandparents are likely to need access to affordable, long-term, hours of child care for their grandchild,” Minister Birmingham said.
“Grandparents should not be left out of pocket in accessing child care.”
Kids benefit too!
It’s not just grandparents who will appreciate subsidised child care – young children stand to benefit as well.
“Child care provides not only additional learning opportunities to children but also valuable respite to older Australians who have stepped in to become the primary carer in their retirement years,” said Minister Birmingham.