Women's caring work taken for granted

She Cares Campaign: 11 April, 2018

Unpaid carers in New Zealand are twice as likely to be female, devoting an exhausting average of 30 hours a week to caring for elderly, ill, or disabled friends and family members and suffering financially as a result – while saving the country billions of dollars.

With the launch of its She Cares campaign, Carers NZ is calling on the Government to urgently revamp its carer payment and respite policies to help carers cope with growing responsibilities in an ageing society.

“Two thirds of New Zealand’s 420,000 family carers are women. It’s a role women have always had but today’s women are juggling a lot. They work, they care, and without support they face health risks themselves,” says Carers NZ CEO Laurie Hilsgen.

In the most recent Census in 2013, there were 272,328 unpaid female carers. Of these, 136,638 were caring for someone in their own home, while 175,839 were assisting a friend or family member living elsewhere. Some were supporting more than one person. Their efforts cost more than time, she says; family caregiving also hits women in the pocket.

“Households of unpaid caregivers typically earn 10 percent less, while the conservative economic value of their unpaid work is $10.8 billion dollars a year. That’s a big contribution. Yet women who care often can’t earn, they work below their experience and qualifications to support their families, and it’s hard to save for retirement. It’s an injustice that must change in contemporary NZ.”

These tireless female carers include women like Hamilton mum of four Shannon, whose one-year-old son Tailen has Cystic Fibrosis. Her days generally stretch from 6am to 1am, and include an intensive medication regime, two to three physio sessions, up to 30 nappy changes, and the ever-present fear of infections.

The financial and emotional pressures are immense, too; Shannon admits that she cries most days but manages to keep going for the love of her family.

“I just wish there was better access to help where needed, to be able to survive financially without constantly owing money borrowed to get through weeks when life is really tough with Tailen and he needs the things he does to survive,” Shannon says.

Carers NZ believes NZ’s overwhelmingly female force of family carers needs more practical support and is working with the Carers Alliance of 45 national not for profits to lobby for financial and other improvements.

As well as economic support, women carers need regular breaks to recharge, programmes to sustain their own wellbeing, and the chance to live ordinary lives, Hilsgen says.

Reminding women carers of the need to look after themselves is a key aim of She Cares through free infopacks, wellbeing prize draws, and initiatives such as the upcoming Lumino Day that will provide women carers with free oral health visits at Lumino dental clinics across the country.

Government is taking steps to better support carers with a new five year Action Plan for the Carers’ Strategy. The Carers Alliance is encouraging an ambitious Plan that addresses areas that were off the table with the previous National Government, notably paying family carers with intensive responsibilities for their work.

“If you have to give up your job to care you still have mouths to feed and bills to pay," Hilsgen says. "Current payment policies are not addressing the modern challenge of how to support people at home. Lifespans are longer, living costs are higher, and family carers are saying enough – we can’t keep going if we’re not valued.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni were quick to send good wishes for She Cares, the PM on the same day she announced her pregnancy, saluting women carers for their “vital contribution” to the country, families, and society.

“Too often, we don’t consider how important this work really is, or the sacrifices many women make to be there for people they love and care about in their times of need.”

Individual carers and groups can order free She Cares infopacks by phoning 0800 777 797, by emailing centre@carers.net.nz, or learn about the campaign at she-cares.org

Organisations and workplaces can order bulk infopacks for carers.

For more information contact

  • Laurie Hilsgen, Carers NZ CEO                 Katrina Fletcher, Carers NZ Service Manager
  • 021 702 922                                                    (09) 360 7221
  • info@carers.net.nz                                        centre@carers.net.nz

 By the numbers:

  • 63% of unpaid caregivers in New Zealand are women
  • Unpaid carers are twice as likely to be female
  • In the most recent Census in 2013, there were 272,328 unpaid female carers
  • - 136,638 supporting someone in their own home
  • - 175,839 assisting someone in another location
  • The average age of female carers is 49
  • Carers come from all ethnic backgrounds but are more likely to be European or Maori
  • The average carer devotes 30 hours a week to caregiving for a family member who is elderly, ill, or has a disability
  • Households of unpaid caregivers typically earn 10 percent less
  • The annual value of unpaid care is conservatively estimated to be $10.8 billion dollars

From The Economic Value and Impacts of Formal Care in New Zealand (2014), a report for Carers NZ and the Carers Alliance

About Carers NZ

Established in the early 1990s, Carers NZ provides information, advice, and support for family carers. It acts as the Secretariat for the Carers Alliance of more than 40 national not for profits, and directly supports a network of almost 50,000 family carers and community organisations. Visit carers.net.nz and she-cares.org