One in four unpaid carers in Northern Ireland living in poverty, research shows


One in four people providing unpaid care for sick or disabled family members or friends in Northern Ireland are living in poverty, higher than the rest of the UK, according to new research published today. (August 9)

The report from the Carer Poverty Commission – a group of experts who spent the last six months gathering evidence on carer poverty in Northern Ireland – found that severe financial pressures are leaving local carers borrowing money from loan sharks, struggling to afford to eat, living in cold homes and relying on charity shops to get by.

Carers told the researchers that they feel ‘humiliated’ as they struggle to meet their sick loved ones’ extra energy, food and travel needs. They called for greater welfare support and other measures from Stormont to help carers survive financially.

‘At the supermarket I put my bank card in the machine and just pray it’s not declined. I wake up every morning with a sense of dread and it feels like no one cares’

Caroline Brown, from Cookstown, cares for her autistic son and her partner. She said: “I became a carer in late 2016 and the support you get to help meet the high costs of caring is minimal. It is always a case of, ‘Here’s a form. Fill it in. You’re not entitled to anything’. It is a constant struggle. I care for two people who I love dearly and would move heaven and earth to protect, but it hasn’t been easy.

“Financially, caring is incredibly tough. We have three people living on one wage and prices just keep rising and rising. At the supermarket I put my bank card in the machine and just pray it’s not declined. I wake up every morning with a sense of dread and it feels like no one cares.

“Politicians and government agencies want you to go away and be someone else’s problem. I’m not that easily deterred, but the constant fighting and struggling is taking a toll on my own mental health. Carers perform such a crucial function in society, yet we’re ignored, infantilised, made to feel worthless. We are exhausted and drowning under the weight of caring, but have no choice other than to keep going.”

The research shows that, even before the cost of living crisis, many unpaid carers were already facing higher households bills to run electronic medical equipment in their home, buy specialist food and travel to frequent hospital appointments.

In the report, one unpaid carer said they were afraid to use their washing machine because they’d be pushed into ‘destitution’ if it broke and needed to be replaced. Another said they were embarrassed to have people visit them because they can’t afford to turn the heating on while trying to survive on Carer’s Allowance.

The researchers heard about carers with children having to borrow money from loan sharks in the summer so they can afford to pay for uniforms for the new school term.

Severe financial hardship is taking a severe toll on many carers’ mental health, according to the report, with poverty and the pressure of caring causing chronic stress and anxiety among some carers.

Craig Harrison, Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI, said: “Our research uncovers truly shocking experiences of poverty across Northern Ireland’s carer population. Far too often, the price people are paying for caring for their loved ones is a life defined by debt, desperation and despair, and while they told us that they feel humiliated by the poverty they’re living in, it is the rest of society that should be ashamed of abandoning them to such severe levels of hardship.

“Unpaid carers have always been at a heightened risk of experiencing poverty because of the high costs associated with disability and ill-health and barriers they face to employment, so high inflation, sky-rocketing food prices and the wider cost of living crisis have just made a bad situation even worse. Many carers are well beyond the limits of their financial resilience and are at risk of going under without greater help. We need our political leaders to put carers at the top of their priority list and give them the financial support they need in a restored Stormont government.”

The new research from the Carer Poverty Commission will be presented to a delegation of cross-party MLAs and officials from the Department for Communities in Belfast today. It calls for reform of Carer’s Allowance, a new payment to help carers afford household essentials and support to help them enter paid employment.

• Read full report –