The research, based on responses from 1,035 individuals across all states and territories, highlights the need for improved conditions for workers in the care and support sector, which encompasses aged care, disability support and childcare services.
Despite recent pay increases for aged care workers announced in the federal budget, concerns persist regarding the devaluation of care work over the years.
Dr Laura Davy, the lead author from ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, emphasised the devastating impact of this devaluation on both care workers and recipients. The survey revealed that less than 3 in 10 Australians believe paid care work provides fair conditions, and only 1 in 5 consider it to offer good pay.
“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,” Dr Davy said.
While a quarter of respondents expressed a potential interest in working in the care services sector in the future, this figure rose to 30% among those aged 35 to 49 and 35% among 18 to 34-year-olds. Additionally, men were more likely to indicate an inclination towards care work.
Despite the sector’s increasing demand and critical workforce shortages, the survey suggests the potential for growth and evolution.
Professor Ariadne Vromen, co-author of the study, explained that expanding care work, particularly in aged care and disability services, presents new job opportunities and the possibility of attracting more young people and men to this traditionally feminised field. However, to ensure quality support for clients and attract individuals to the sector, it is crucial to address job insecurity and low wages.
The survey also sheds light on the experiences of informal carers during the pandemic, revealing heightened levels of stress and isolation among most caregivers.
These challenges were particularly pronounced among women carers, younger individuals and those with more intensive caregiving roles. Unfortunately, these groups also had limited access to support from employers and informal networks.
Dr Davy stressed the need for societal reform in workplaces, politics, and attitudes towards care, advocating for better support systems and flexible work arrangements.
“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,” she added.
By investing in formal support services and implementing policies that promote work-life balance, the Australian government can strengthen the care infrastructure and enhance the well-being of both caregivers and recipients of care.
The report presents crucial findings on Australian attitudes and experiences related to caring and care work. It focuses on four key aspects: the impact of the pandemic on carers, perceptions of work in the care services sector, the importance of various support systems for carers to manage work and caregiving responsibilities, and the responsibility for future funding of the care sector.
The research emphasises the rewarding nature of care work but highlights concerns regarding low pay, job insecurity and the need to support family carers through fair pay and conditions, as well as the implementation of care-friendly policies in workplaces.