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Many Australians need assistance with different activities in their lives, whether this is due to disability, medical conditions, mental illness or because they are getting older, and they may require assistance in either the short or long term. Formal assistance, such as that provided by government-funded organisations or services, is an important part of providing care. However, people needing assistance often prefer to be cared for by people they are close to where possible.

An informal carer is a person, such as a family member, friend or neighbour, who provides regular and sustained care and assistance to the person requiring support. Use of the adjective 'informal' does not imply that the care provided is thought to be casual or lacking in structure and process. Rather, it is a means of distinguishing the unpaid care provided by family, friends or neighbours from care provided by formal agencies or institutions, paid for by the receiver (possibly including government subsidies), or provided by (necessarily) trained professionals.

Informal carers play an important role in the lives of many people. The types of care provided are diverse, ranging from personal care to transport to medical care. They may provide care in conjunction with formal care arrangements, share care with other informal carers, or be the sole carer. The person responsible for the majority of informal caring is known as the primary carer.

The care provided is an expression of their relationship in a time of need, even though this may not always be the carer's first choice. While caring may be rewarding, carers may also experience the stress of social isolation, physical and emotional strain, and reduced education and employment opportunities.

Administrative data collections such as the Disability Services National Minimum Data Set, Commonwealth HACC (Home and Community Care) Minimum Data Set and census collections of programmes such as the Home Care Packages Programme gather some information about informal care for people receiving these services. In addition, the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (most recently conducted in 2012) is an important source of information on carers.

Research and reporting 

Each issue of Australia's welfare covers carers and informal care. In 2012, 2.7 million people or 12% of Australians were informal carers. Of these people, 770,000 were primary carers.

Disability support services: services provided under the National Disability Agreement 2013–14 observed that 140,525 people had an informal carer in 2013–14, 68% of people using disability services. This was an increase of 3% from the previous year, and 19% from the 2009–10 financial year. Of the service users with a carer, most (84%) reported that their informal carer was also their primary carer, and nearly three-quarters were cared for by their mother (72%). As the age of the service user increased, so did the likelihood that their carer was their spouse or partner.  More than half (54%) of service users aged 65 and over were cared for by a spouse or partner.

Other AIHW reports have also raised the topic as part of a broader snapshot of community-based care. The future supply of informal care 2003–2013: alternative scenarios has more detail on these topics. The report investigated three alternative scenarios for the future supply of informal carers, comparing the result if the carer rates observed in the 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers remained constant within each age, sex, labour force participation, and living arrangement category over the projection period.

Carers in Australia: assisting frail older people and people with a disability examined the work of those who provide care to adults and children who require others' assistance because of disability or age-related frailty. The report also looked at possible scenarios relating to the potential number of primary carers available up to 2013.

People using both Disability Services and Home and Community Care in 2010–11 found that 60% of people using both disability and HACC services had an informal carer, while 40% of people using only one had an informal carer—most commonly a parent, followed by spouse and other family members.