PETER Wilkinson has spent 23 years as a carer, and while he is not one to complain, he does want this message heard – “carers need respite and support too”.
Mr Wilkinson, 59, is among an estimated 2.7 million Australians who shoulder an enormous community burden as informal carers, and among this number are 856,000 primary carers of people with disability – taking care of everyday activities.
There are primary carers in one of every 10 households.
It’s estimated carer services save governments $60 billion a year, although, as carers they receive little recognition and are often isolated themselves.
National Carers Week – a moment to pause and consider the valuable role of carers – was celebrated from October 16-22.
Mr Wilkinson and his wife care for brothers Hans and Peter Marquard who both suffer from severe mental incapacity.
The “boys”, as they call them, require constant care and reassurance. They are both members of the Merry Hearts Choir.
“We look after the boys’ day-to-day lives. We make sure they are washed, dressed and clean. Fortunately we are blessed with a very, very good care provider in Centacare,” Mr Wilkinson said.
Hans and Peter attend Centacare four days a week, and a second provider takes them on another day.
“So, for us as carers – and we are getting older – this is a real blessing. Without care providers we couldn’t do it,” Mr Wilkinson said.
He said it was important governments – state and federal – adequately funded care providers.
“This is what carers desperately need,” he said.
“I wish people could know just how precious those respite hours are for carers.
“If you took a poll of people who are caring now, you would find they are older people, and as we get older we are finding the burden of caring harder.”
Two years ago, Mr Wilkinson’s wife had an aortic root dissection which he said was caused, in part, by the stress of caring.
“There must be hundreds of carers across Australia who face worse circumstances. At least there are two of us doing this,” he said.
“I feel for those who are doing it on their own.
“One thing that carers face is isolation, and that can be extremely punishing. You become socially isolated from other people because, often others may not be interested in knowing about the burden you are carrying. They may find it far too confronting.”
Despite the hardship, Mr Wilkinson said he and his wife considered caring part of their Christian service.
“When we took this upon us it wasn’t a question of will we do it, it was a matter of we have to do it because it is part of our faith and is what we believe in,” he said.
He said he took inspiration from a biblical quote which says: “Do right to the widow, judge for the fatherless, give to the poor, defend the orphan, clothe the naked”.
Mr Wilkinson said he had been “struck very powerfully” because at the time, 23 years ago, he had been living with his mother-in-law, a widow, who was raising two orphans – Hans and Peter.
Now those two “boys” are in his care.
Mr Wilkinson said people with disabilities had little “voice” in Australia’s political conversation, to the country’s detriment.
By Mark Bowling