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MLAs from the largest parties in Stormont have made a joint call for a new Carers Strategy for Northern Ireland.

In a letter to the top civil servant in the Department of Health, [1] representatives of Sinn Féin, the DUP, Alliance Party, UUP and SDLP said that despite saving Northern Ireland’s health service billions of pounds in care costs each year, many of the 220,000 people looking after sick or disabled family members here [2] are living lives “defined by ill-health, extreme pressure, hardship and lost opportunities.”

The letter calls for a cross-departmental strategy to address the challenges unpaid carers face in the spheres of health and social care, welfare, housing and employment, arguing that carers “have spent too long being told how valued they are by government while consistently finding themselves at the back of the queue” when they need help.

Commenting on the letter, Craig Harrison, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI, said:

Our unpaid carers are saving the health system from collapse every day – being pushed to breaking point by unrelenting caring duties, inadequate support from statutory services and severely limited chances for a break. That takes its toll on their wellbeing and quality of life, and they’re crying out for a new government strategy to deliver the help and support they need.
Our last carers strategy was published in 2006 and doesn’t reflect the lives or challenges facing carers today. While local carers are regularly praised for the immense contribution they make, they never seem to be prioritised when it comes to policy or funding decisions, and the fact that the last government strategy for them is now close to being two decades old demonstrates that all too clearly. We can’t afford to wait any longer to begin designing a new strategy for local carers, and the Department of Health has the power to begin this critical work immediately. That would send a welcomed message to carers that addressing the challenges they face every day is being treated as a priority.”

The cross-party letter also highlights research from Carers NI showing that the pressure facing unpaid carers in Northern Ireland is leaving close to one in four local carers describing their mental health as bad or very bad, with one in five saying the same about their physical health. [3]


Notes to editors

  1. A full copy of the letter to Peter May, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, is available for download at the bottom of the page. It is signed by Jemma Dolan MLA (Sinn Féin), Paul Givan MLA (DUP), Paula Bradshaw MLA (Alliance Party), Alan Chambers MLA (UUP) and Colin McGrath MLA (SDLP).
  2. According to the 2021 Census, there are over 220,000 people providing unpaid care for a sick or disabled family member or friend in Northern Ireland.
  3. Statistics from State of Caring 2022: A snapshot of unpaid caring in Northern Ireland.
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