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Caring for loved ones is at the heart of our society, so why do we reward carers with poverty?

Blog post from Helen Barnard, Chair of the Carer Poverty Commission’s steering group

It is hard to think of any activity in our society that is simultaneously so important and so undervalued as caring. Caring for our loved ones - as a parent, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or friend – is at the heart of so many of our lives.  And is there anything more vital to our security than knowing that we will have someone to turn to when we need care ourselves?

So how can it be right that those doing this most essential work are so often rewarded with poverty, debt and hardship? 

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest UK poverty report, nearly three in ten (29%) of informal carers are trapped in poverty, far higher than the rate among those without caring responsibilities (20%). Carers NI research found that nearly a quarter (23%) of carers in Northern Ireland are having to cut back on essentials like food and heating.  Carers report having to miss medical appointments because they can’t afford the travel. Many have run down their savings and taken on debt to try and survive, leaving them vulnerable to even deeper poverty in the years to come. 

This hardship takes a heavy toll, both emotionally and physically. Nearly seven in ten carers find the increased cost of living pressures are having a negative impact on their health. This is compounded by being cut off from social activities or the breaks that are crucial to enabling many carers to keep going.

There are many reasons for this dire situation. Carers are much less likely to have a job, even when they would love to be able to do paid work alongside their caring responsibilities. They are shut out by not being able to access suitable, affordable care for their loved ones, and by inflexible jobs. At the same time, they often face higher costs, needing to keep the home warm for the health of the person they care for, do more laundry, buy specialised food or equipment, pay for the energy to run medical equipment at home or for transport to reach appointments with specialists. And social security support, which should be a lifeline, is too often inadequate, leaving them unable to pay the bills and cover essentials.

This year, Carers NI have brought together a committed and knowledgeable group of experts to guide a new Carers Poverty Commission. Our group includes carers, researchers, policy experts and charities. The Commission will draw on new analysis and modelling by WPI Economics to understand the scale, nature and drivers of poverty among carers. We will hear from groups representing carers in different situations, examine past research into carers poverty and learn from experience across different parts of the UK.

Our goal is not simply to understand the situation however. We are determined to find solutions. To identify the steps that can and must be taken by the Northern Ireland government, the UK government, local authorities, health and social care trusts, businesses, charities and communities. 

Over the next few months, we will be gathering evidence and ideas from across Northern Ireland. If you would like to contribute to the Commission’s work, please get in touch at

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