Australian Carers' Income Support Since 1983 Changing Frames and Persistent Gender Inequality

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Yvette MAKER , School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia
Dina BOWMAN , School of Social and Political Sciences, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Australia
Many Australians provide unpaid, informal care for a relative or friend with a disability, illness or age-related frailty, and women are more likely than men to be the main ‘carer’ in these circumstances. A dedicated income support payment for some Australian carers has been available since the 1980s. Unlike many other forms of income support, which have been progressively restricted as part of a wide-ranging neoliberal reform process, eligibility for Carer Payment has been extended to an increasing number and range of carers in recent years.

This paper reviews the history of this policy area, focusing on the manner in which reforms to the social security legislation have been framed. Drawing on Fiona Williams’ analysis of the claiming and framing of European care policies (2010), we argue that changes to Australian carers’ income support have developed within competing frames of social justice and social investment. The social investment frame, which prioritises paid work over care, has become particularly prominent in recent years. This echoes the increasing concern with paid work participation in other areas of income support, such as unemployment benefits and payments for sole parents. However, the changes to carer policy reflect a unique tension between competing goals of promoting paid work participation for all working-age people and ensuring a supply of unpaid carers in the community.

Neither of the dominant policy frames addresses Australian women’s ongoing responsibility for the bulk of unpaid caring, and income support policy potentially reinforces this inequality. We argue that these issues must be addressed in future reforms to ensure that the competing pressures on women to care and to engage in paid work do not lead to greater disadvantage for carers and the people for whom they care.