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Carers: The Happiest People on Earth?

When it comes to healthcare we’re pretty lucky in Australia. We have a world-class health system with talented, highly-skilled doctors, surgeons and allied health professionals. We hold these healthcare professionals in high esteem in our society. We put great trust in their knowledge and skill. This respect and reverence should extend to the many devoted professional community carers who provide ongoing support to people with a disability and the elderly in Australia.

Everyone, at some stage of life, will need care. That’s simply a part of the life cycle. Some of us will need more care than others. But how often do we pause and think about who will be there to care for us? Those that devote their time and careers to care for others are truly special people. They deserve more recognition. 

The latest figures reveal more than 260,000 elderly Australians require care support services. The number of people with disability who need support from a carer is over 400,000.

While many carers are unpaid family members – a parent caring for a disabled child, a spouse or a child looking after mum or dad in old age – more and more carers are professional in-home carers.

When daily activities become challenging and families can’t cope alone, moving to a residential care facility may seem the only option. Yet being cared for in your own home by a trained, professional support worker is a much better alternative for many people who value their independence and wish to remain active in their communities.

For Sonja, being a professional care support worker at Just Better Care is more than a job. “That’s really special to me”. The mother-of-two loves what she does and it shows.  

Sonja cares for a number of people in her community. “I love what I’m doing. To give a bit back to people who need that support. It’s a really rewarding feeling. I think it’s wonderful to spread that around.”

Izu wanted to care for people in his community, but it was also an opportunity to meet real Australians and give back to others. “I’ve worked for Just Better Care for four years. The most fulfilling part is knowing that you’ve made a change in someone’s life, you’ve made it easier for them.”

Candy looks after autistic kids. “To see the progress of them getting better and improving every day – it’s fantastic to see. They need me, and I need them. It makes me want to get up every day.”

Another carer is Elise. She is a mother-of-three and nursing student. Being an in-home care professional is an extension of her life and studies and a wonderful way to use her skills and knowledge to help others.

 “There are a lot of people who have no family. They have no assistance, no nothing. It’s just good to actually help people. Everyone works together to help meet every client’s goal.”

“Caring for people, it’s wonderful. You feel you’re making a real difference for people.”

We are constantly inspired at Just Better Care by our staff who chose this profession and who have so much love for what they do, how they can contribute positively to the lives of their customers, and how grateful they are for the privilege of supporting others maintain their independence and social connections.

The freedom to live life on your terms – to make choices about where and how you live – is fundamental to a fuller, happier life.  If you’re living with a disability, an illness or frail age, living independently and confidently in your own home requires support. Community and in-home care support professionals make this possibility for thousands of people with disabilities and the elderly.

Helping someone at home involves different types of support for different people. Some people may need assistance to care for themselves, to dress or move around; someone else may need help with chores around the house, or companionship and support to maintain social connections. Everybody’s needs are unique, and everyone values different things.

To say that care support workers play an important role in our communities is understating things substantially. Without this vital care many people would simply not be able to function at home. But it’s more than just practical support and respite for families – it’s the emotional support that makes people feel valued.

Carers provide companionship, encouraging people in their care to eat well, stay socially connected and have active minds. And they can be there to cheer them up and celebrate special occasions, joke and laugh together. This is why people who care enough to meet these individual needs are so special.

Working in a job that gives you the opportunity to connect and support someone else, our staff tell us direct from their experience, is very rewarding.

The Guardian conducted research into the happiest jobs and found jobs that are based on caring for and supporting others – nurses, teachers and medical practitioners – all ranked in the top five.

Why do we need care support workers more than ever? The demand for carers is at an all-time high and only set to increase into the future. The Deloitte Access Economics Report, ‘The Economic Value of Informal Care in Australia 2015’ found there are approximately 10,000 fewer unpaid carers in 2015 than there were in 2010. The data suggested a number of reasons for this – we’re working more, we’re living longer, and families and communities are more disconnected. As a result, it appears that Australians, in general, have a lower propensity to care.  

As women join or stay longer in the work force (unpaid carers are predominantly women) there are less people available to provide care on a volunteer basis. Our ageing population and longer life expectancy means there are more people needing care for longer and the ratio of carers to those needing care inevitably widens. Other factors – such as families becoming disconnected by divorce, death and distance – mean more people live alone with less family support structures; 25.4 per cent of people aged over 65 are estimated to live alone (women make up the majority of this figure).

The report warns of an ever-widening gap between demand and supply and predicts that by 2025 only 42 per cent of those with a severe disability aged over 65 and not living in residential care will have access to an unpaid carer.

Statistics show Australia depends on carers and this demand will only grow as Australia ages. There are currently more than 340,000 Australians living with dementia – one of the leading causes for our increased care demands. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to be almost 900,000 by 2050 (more than 2.5 times the current figure). Similarly, the National Disability Insurance Scheme has also revealed the growing number of people with disability and their families that need support. More than 430,000 people will be included in the NDIS by 2019.

Australia undoubtedly needs more professional carers, and these professionals deserve greater recognition for the amazing work they do.

The happiness and quality of life that comes with living independently at home should not be under-estimated. Just because you need help with things like driving, cooking and caring for yourself, it should not mean you lose the right to remain at home. Clearly, in-home support professionals do more than provide vital services to those they look after: they home-deliver happiness