“This is my normal. Poverty is all I’ve ever known.”

That’s just one example of the gut-wrenching testimony that unpaid carers have shared with the Carer Poverty Commission NI.

The Commission, which is led by Carers NI, has spent the last 10 months speaking to those who provide unpaid care for sick or disabled family members and friends across the region, to better understand the financial circumstances and poverty they’re living in. The result has been a devastating insight into the hardship facing many local carers, and a clear need for Stormont to intervene to help those carers most at risk

Our data modelling shows that more than one in four carers here (28%) are living in poverty – significantly more than the poverty rate among NI’s non-carer population (17%) and higher than the carer poverty rate in the rest of the UK as well (24%).

These numbers represent local carers living in despair every day, as they grapple with a combination of inescapable caring costs, barriers to work and pitiful welfare support.

We have carers who are embarrassed to have family members visit, because the pennies per hour they receive in Carer’s Allowance isn’t enough to put heating oil in an empty tank.

Carers borrowing money from loan sharks every summer so they afford uniforms for their children for the new school year.

Carers saying a prayer that their bank card isn’t declined every time they arrive at the supermarket till.

And carers who just can’t make their finances stretch far enough each month, despite relying on charity shops and cutting back on all the essentials they can.

Anxiety, chronic stress and wider mental ill-health are the inevitable consequences.

Northern Ireland’s unpaid carer population is saving the public pursue billions of pounds each year – propping up our health and social care system and saving Stormont’s budget from total collapse. They shouldn’t be condemned to a life of hardship, hunger and debt in return.

Our policymakers must do better, and making the benefits system fairer for carers should be a particular priority. Carer’s Allowance is paid at less than £80 per week, so it is no surprise that nearly half (46%) of all claimants in Northern Ireland are living in poverty. We think it should be uplifted to £120 per week, as a minimum, to ensure carers can afford daily living essentials.

Employers have an important role to play, too, by introducing the supportive practices and policies carers need to be able to go to juggle work and caring safely if they wish to.

The cost of living crisis has left very few families untouched, but too many of our carers were struggling to make ends meet even before the price of food, energy and other bills began to sky-rocket. We need political and business leaders to work with us and deliver a future where carer poverty is never considered ‘normal’ again.

Read the full report and get involved with the Carer NI campaigns and initiatives.

Craig Harrison is the Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI

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