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Lack of support impacting on the health, work and financial wellbeing of unpaid carers in NI

21 March 2022
  • High numbers of carers facing reduced levels of paid care support, day services and short breaks with carers in rural areas are facing additional challenges.
  • Lack of support is causing increased levels of physical and mental ill health, loneliness and social isolation.
  • Working carers say lack of support services will mean they have to reduce hours or give up work all together.
  • Carers NI publishes manifesto for Assembly Election and calls on candidates to make a commitment to carers in the new mandate.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, one in five unpaid carers (19%) didn’t receive any support in their caring role.[1] Since March 2020, many services have had to adapt by reducing capacity or closing to cope with the COVID-19 restrictions and staffing shortages. This has led to more carers than ever not receiving support.  This has profound impacts on carers’ physical and mental health, finances and employment.

In new research[2] launched by Carers NI, with responses from 776 carers found it is harder for them to get the support they desperately need.  More than a quarter of carers (29%) faced reduced services from paid care workers, almost half of carers (48%) facing reduced day services, over a third (36%) reduced short break services and a quarter of parents with a disabled child face reduced after school services. 

Rural carers face additional challenges, with more than one in 10 (12%) saying that there is no transport to take the person they care for to services, even if they were available.

“Sadly, once you live so many miles away you are told the service does not go that far out. Why would all the money go to small focus areas. We all pay taxes and we all need help”

Worryingly, many carers told Carers NI that they had withdrawn from services because of the risk of COVID-19 to the person they care for.  Over a third of carers (40%) stated that they were not accessing services because they were worried about the person they care for catching COVID-19.  This has implications on providing tailored support for carers in Executive plans to “live with COVID”.

This lack of support is having a profound impact on carers health, wellbeing and ability to work.

The strain of caring has increased already poor levels of physical and mental health.  The numbers of carers reporting poor physical health have increased from 22% of respondents in State of Caring 2019 to 25% and poor mental health has shot up from a quarter (25%) to a third (33%) of all respondents.  Worryingly, over a third of carers said they were often or always lonely.

And, one in the five (20%) of all working carers in this survey said that if they didn’t get affordable and accessible care to support them, they would have to reduce their working hours or be at risk of giving up work altogether.  Risking being pushed into poverty now and into retirement.

“Lockdown has extremely affected my son and we have still not had access to a lot or services. This has meant I have had to leave work which has had a negative impact on my mental health.”

Evidence of the impact of caring on finances is growing.  This research and Carers NI’s recent Cost of Living report this month show the significant impact the pandemic and cost of living increases have had, and continue to have on carers. 

Carers’ support in Northern Ireland has been valued at a staggering £19 million per day during the pandemic, or £6.93 billion for a full year[3] – outstripping the value of the NHS. Prior to the COVID-19, there were 220,000 unpaid carers in Northern Ireland[4]. It has been estimated that an additional 98,000 people started caring during the pandemic[5].

Even before this, the numbers of unpaid carers have been rising as the population ages and people live longer into older age with greater health needs. Increasing practical and financial support for carers must be at the heart of the recovery from the pandemic.

Richard Meade, Director of Carers NI said:

“We are seeing unprecedented levels of pressure placed on carers, with insufficient support and services, rising costs of living and impacts on all aspects of their lives.

For years carers have been propping up our health and care system at a huge cost to their own personal health, finances and ability to stay in work. Throughout the pandemic they carried a huge load which for many has not lessened. They desperately need support to regain their quality of life and enable them to continue caring.

The Executive must recognise the toll being placed on unpaid carers and ensure that planned social care reform really delivers for carers. Carers need to see their Government prioritise a positive future for them.

As it stands, providing unpaid care is pushing thousands of families into poverty and ill health and exacerbating already challenging lives.  Without action, this will have a lasting impact.”

The charity has today also published its manifesto of asks for 2022 Northern Ireland elections, and is calling on all candidates to make a commitment to carers by making their issues an early priority for the new mandate. Supporters of carers issues can email their local candidates and urge them support these asks.

Calls for action include:

  • ensuring that carers have the support they need at all stages of their caring journey
  • placing carers at the heart of planned social care reform
  • providing additional financial support
  • introducing carers leave, and
  • setting out steps to improve carers physical and mental health

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors:

Media contacts

Please contact Carers NI for more information:

  • Richard Meade, Director Carers Scotland and Carers Northern Ireland  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Tel: 0768970219
  • Fiona Collie, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Scotland & Northern Ireland This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Tel: 07967826238

About Carers NI’s State of Caring 2021 report

Carers NI carried out our State of Caring survey[6] between August and September 2021 as part of an annual spotlight on the circumstances of carers across the UK.  State of Caring has been undertaken for over a decade and is the UK’s most comprehensive research into the lives and experience of carers. The latest UK wide research report can be found here.  

This report is based on the responses from 776 people in Northern Ireland currently providing care.


[1] Carers UK (2019), State of Caring 2019

[2] Carers NI and Carers UK (2022), State of Caring in Northern Ireland

[3] Carers UK (2020) Unseen and Undervalued

[4] Census 2011

[5] This research is based on polling carried out by YouGov plc in May 2020

[6][6] This was part of a survey across the UK produced by including a report, providing from 8,676 carers and former carers and providing recommendations for action and change.

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