5.88 Carer Payment provides income support to people who, because of caring responsibilities, are unable to support themselves through substantial paid employment. This section considers the limitations on participation in education or training, or paid or other productive work, associated with qualification for Carer Payment. The ALRC proposes that the current rules be more flexibly interpreted to allow carers in receipt of Carer Payment, the majority of whom are mature age, better to combine care with work or study.
Carer Payment and mature age persons
5.89 There is a correlation between informal care, mature age and gender. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘the likelihood of a person providing care to someone else increases with age, peaking for women between the ages of 55 years and 64 years and for men aged over 75’.
5.90 The age profile of Carer Payment recipients reflects this correlation. At December 2011, there were 195,183 Carer Payment recipients. Of these, 69% were aged 45 years and older; 57% were aged 45–64 and 11% were aged over 65. Carer Payment recipients were predominantly women—69% of total recipients at December 2011.
5.91 The main policy intent of Carer Payment is to provide income support to carers who cannot participate substantially in paid work. However, Professor Michael Bittman, Dr Trish Hill and Ms Cathy Thomson have noted that Carer Payment also fits within a broader policy setting that aims to support the private provision of care, through self-care and informal care in the home. This is a form of care that is likely to increase with the ageing of the population. This ‘privatisation of care’ objective, they argue, stands in tension with the goal of promoting workforce participation, given the difficulty of combining paid work and care.
5.92 The question of how to promote workforce participation of those in receipt of Carer Payment falls squarely within these policy tensions. Longitudinal studies have shown that working age carers experience difficulties in combining paid work and care, with carers more likely than non-carers to reduce their hours of work or exit from the labour force and to earn lower levels of income.
Qualification for Carer Payment
5.93 To qualify for Carer Payment, a person must, among other things, be providing ‘constant care’ to a care receiver in the care receiver’s home. Constant care is not defined in the Social Security Act. However, the Guide to Social Security Law states that it amounts to care for a significant period each day of at least the equivalent of a normal working day.
5.94 Carer Payment recipients are permitted in specific circumstances temporarily to cease caring and remain qualified for Carer Payment. A Carer Payment recipient may cease caring for not more than 25 hours per week (including travel time) to undertake training, education, unpaid voluntary work or paid employment. This is often referred to as the ‘25-hour rule’.
5.95 A number of stakeholders considered that the 25-hour rule acted as a barrier to mature age workforce participation. COTA argued that ‘the 25-hour rule is too restrictive and … it severely limits carers’ opportunities to participate in the workforce … or prepare themselves to do so in the future’.
5.96 Carers Australia argued that there is a need for more flexibility in the application of the 25-hour rule for Carer Payment. Carers Australia has stated that the current income support structure is limited in its ability to support transitions between caring and employment, and that ‘without strong supports for these transitions, caring will be viewed as carrying too many financial, social and health risks for many to take on such a role’.
5.97 A number of commentators have highlighted the difficulties faced by carers in re-entering the workforce when caring responsibilities cease. This was echoed in submissions to this Inquiry. For example, OWN submitted that ‘informal carers returning to work are concerned their qualifications and skills are out of date and they may have lost confidence in their abilities and report being told they are too old’.
5.98 The Guide to Social Security Law states that a person’s qualification should be reviewed if a carer ceases to care for more than 25 hours per week to participate in training, education, employment or voluntary work, as the person may no longer satisfy the constant care criteria. NWRN suggested that this test was strictly applied, reporting that
in 2010–11 there were 2,398 rejections of Carer Payment due to the carer working, volunteering, or studying or training for more than 25 hours a week. In the same period there were 1,822 cancellations of Carer Payment because the carer worked, volunteered, studied or trained for more than 25 hours a week.
5.99 Removing barriers to participation in paid or voluntary work, as well as to the ability to obtain or update skills through training or education, may benefit Carer Payment recipients, not only in their current situation, but also in equipping them to work after they cease caring.
5.100 There appears to be scope for a more flexible interpretation of the current 25-hour rule to assist Carer Payment recipients to combine care with work, training, education or voluntary work. The ALRC proposes that the Guide to Social Security Law be amended to reflect this.
5.101 The Guide currently provides one example of how employment in the home may be compatible with the constant care requirement. There are a number of other employment, training and education activities—for example, online learning—that might be undertaken within the care receiver’s home that would also be compatible with the need to provide constant care. The ALRC proposes that the Guide should be amended to provide further examples of such activities.
Proposal 5–3 The Guide to Social Security Law should provide that a temporary cessation of constant care due to participation in employment, voluntary work, education or training that exceeds 25 hours per week:
(a) does not result in automatic cancellation of Carer Payment; and
(b) may, in some circumstances, be compatible with the constant care requirement for qualification for Carer Payment.
Proposal 5–4 The Guide to Social Security Law should provide examples of situations where participation in employment, voluntary work, education or training that exceeds 25 hours per week may be compatible with the constant care requirement for Carer Payment. These examples should include:
(a) employment, voluntary work, education or training undertaken at home, for example online, provided it is consistent with the care receiver’s need for frequent personal care or constant supervision; and
(b) short term increases in excess of 25 hours per week of employment, voluntary work, education or training undertaken outside the home.
 FaHCSIA, Pension Review Report (2009), 10.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers: Summary of Findings, Cat No 4430.0 (2003), 49.
 Senate Standing Committee on Education Employment and Workplace Relations, Additional Budget Estimates 2011–2012: Answers to Questions on Notice, Question No EW1043_12 (DEEWR) (30 April 2012).
 M Bittman, T Hill and C Thomson, ‘The Impact of Caring on Informal Carers’ Employment, Income and Earnings: a Longitudinal Approach’ (2007) 42(2) The Australian Journal of Social Issues 255, 256.
 Ibid, 261.
Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) ss 197B–197K, 198; FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [184.108.40.206].
 FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [1.1.C.310].
Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 198AC(4); FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [220.127.116.11]. A person may also temporarily cease caring in certain other circumstances, including for up to 63 whole days per year: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 198AC; FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov
.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [18.104.22.168].
 Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 54; COTA, Submission 51; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50; ACTU, Submission 38.
 COTA, Submission 51.
 Carers Australia, Correspondence, 13 August 2012.
 Carers Australia, Submission to the Pension Review (2008), 21.
 M Bittman, T Hill and C Thomson, ‘The Impact of Caring on Informal Carers’ Employment, Income and Earnings: a Longitudinal Approach’ (2007) 42(2) The Australian Journal of Social Issues 255; B Cass, ‘Care Giving and Employment: Policy Recognition of Care and Pathways to Labour Force Return’ (2006) 32(3) Australian Bulletin of Labour 240.
 COTA, Submission 51; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50; Older Women’s Network NSW Inc, Submission 26.
 Older Women’s Network NSW Inc, Submission 26. NWRN similarly noted the significant disadvantage in the labour market faced by carers after caring responsibilities cease: National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50.
 FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [22.214.171.124]. Working Credit provides some flexibility when a person takes up paid work. If a person takes up paid work for more than 25 hours per week that causes them to fail the constant care criterion, they are treated as qualified for the period it takes to run down their working credit balance. However, Working Credit will not apply where a person increases time spent in education, training or voluntary work.
 National Welfare Rights Network, Submission 50.
 The example is: ‘Jane cares for her aunt in her aunt’s home. Jane uses a room in her aunt’s house to make craft items that she sells through mail orders. Jane only attends to her business when she is not providing care for her aunt and can stop doing craftwork or packing orders at any time that her aunt needs her’: FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 30 August 2012, [126.96.36.199].