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One in five unpaid carers in Northern Ireland “have not had a day off” in five years

11 July 2017

Carers in Northern Ireland are reaching ‘breaking point’ as they struggle to take even a day away from care responsibilities for years at a time, research by Carers UK has found. Nearly a third (30%) of unpaid carers in Northern Ireland have not had a day off in over one year, whilst one in five (21%) had not received a day away from caring in over five years.

The charity’s report, State of Caring 2017, found that carers in Northern Ireland most frequently listed access to breaks as one of three factors which could make a difference to their health and wellbeing (41%). Respondents explained their own personal reasons for needing a break, listing diverse benefits ranging from the opportunity to spend time with partners and children to being able to see a doctor for their own health conditions. Yet few are able to take regular breaks, with only 16% of carers currently buying or receiving a break from caring in the form of services such as respite or alternative care provisions.

Northern Irish Carers who had not had a break in a year or more reported a deterioration in their health, both mentally (78%) and physically (69%). Despite the catastrophic impact posed by a lack of personal time, 80% of carers in Northern Ireland still “struggle” to attain time away from their care duties. Carers in Northern Ireland named a number of barriers preventing them from taking a break:

  •  Cost - Paying for or contributing towards the cost of a break (19%)
  •  Care concerns – Person cared for is unwilling to accept support from others (27%),
    support is not on offer (27%), or
    low confidence in quality of care (16%)
  • Lack of awareness – Carers would not know how to request a break (12%)

The research also charts a growing anxiety around the level of support that will be available against a backdrop of cuts to adult social care services. Almost a third (28%) of carers in Northern Ireland are worried that practical support for them might be reduced in the future.

Simon Hodgson, Director of Carers NI, said: 

“More and more of us are stepping in to provide care and support to loved ones and doing so for more hours every week. Without access to breaks, carers can quickly reach breaking point, unable to look after their own health, nurture relationships with friends and family or have the time they need to themselves. Our research shows that carers are struggling to get a break because appropriate support for their loved ones isn’t available or services they rely on are being cut or charged for.
Given the enormous value of unpaid care provided by Northern Ireland’s 214,000 carers, estimated to be worth over £4 billion each year – getting some time away from caring to spend time with a partner, get to a medical appointment or just get a full night’s sleep surely isn’t too much to ask.”

Carers NI believe that immediate practical action on the following is needed to make a difference to carers’ lives:

Increased and ring-fenced funding for carers’ breaks, offering a transparency and consistency across Health and Social Care Trusts to those who need a break from caring.
Sustainable funding settlements for social care, including the provision affordable care services, and technology that supports carers.
Carer-friendly NHS, including policies that help identify carers and to promote our health and well-being resources

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