In the 2006 Census, around 19,600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (4%) were identified as needing assistance with self-care (eating, washing, dressing or toileting), physical mobility or communication. After taking account of age differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous people were almost twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to require assistance with core activities.
The prevalence of disability among Indigenous people is higher at all ages. Among those needing assistance, the median age for Indigenous males was 41 years, and for females, 49 years. The corresponding median ages for non-Indigenous males and females who needed assistance were 61 years and 75 years respectively. The prevalence of need for assistance with core activities increased noticeably from about 35 years of age onwards for both Indigenous men and women. This is consistent with the patterns for chronic long-term health conditions such as heart/circulatory diseases and diabetes, which show onset some ten years earlier in the Indigenous population than in the non-Indigenous population (ABS 2006c).
While Indigenous people are generally disadvantaged when compared with non-Indigenous people, those needing assistance with core activities were likely to experience a further degree of social and economic disadvantage. When compared with Indigenous people who did not need assistance, they were, on average, half as likely to have completed Year 12 (12% compared with 24%), participating in the labour force at around one-quarter the rate (16% compared with 59%), and more likely to be living on lower incomes. In addition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who needed assistance were less likely to be partnered than were those not needing assistance.
In 2006, for the first time, the Census collected information on the number of Australians aged 15 years and over who provided unpaid care, help or assistance to another person because of their disability, long-term illness or problems related to old age. Around 11,600 Indigenous male carers (9%) and 20,000 Indigenous female carers (14%) were identified in 2006. The median age of Indigenous carers was 37 years, 12 years less than the median age of non-Indigenous carers (49 years). Around 2,100 Indigenous carers needed help with core activities themselves, of whom more than two-thirds (68%) were under 55 years of age. Indigenous carers were between one-and-a-half and three times as likely as non-Indigenous carers to need assistance with core activities, similar to the overall Indigenous to non-Indigenous rate ratios for those needing assistance.