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People providing unpaid care for sick or disabled family members or friends in Northern Ireland have been ‘left behind’ in a new employment law that comes into force in the rest of the UK tomorrow (6 April), campaigners have warned.

The new law provides a legal right to unpaid leave from work for carers in England, Scotland and Wales [1] and has been tipped to be a ‘game-changer’ in supporting more people to juggle employment with their loved one’s appointments and other care needs. It doesn’t cover Northern Ireland because employment rules are devolved to Stormont.

With research showing that one in three local carers are leaving work because of the demands of caring, [2] campaigners have called on the Economy Minister to build on the new UK law and provide paid leave for carers in Northern Ireland.

Pauline Holland lives in Belfast and cares for her son, who has autism and additional needs, while working full-time. She said:

I am very lucky to have a supportive employer that helps with my caring role. But the fact that there are no legally enshrined workplace rights for unpaid carers in Northern Ireland is symptomatic of how little we are respected, recognised or valued by the government. What we do every day is exhausting. We’re saving Stormont billions of pounds a year and so surely a legal right to carer’s leave from work, to help us fulfil the numerous appointments and other pressures of caring, isn’t too much to ask from the government?”

Official analysis shows that better supporting workers with caring roles is linked to enormous benefits for businesses in staff retention, output and job satisfaction, as well as cutting social security spending for government. [3] But with no legal requirements in place, nearly 9 in 10 carers in Northern Ireland say their employer doesn’t voluntarily provide paid carer’s leave for staff. [2]

Craig Harrison, Public Affairs Manager at Carers NI, said:

Many people with caring roles in Northern Ireland want and need to stay in work, but the lack of support to juggle employment with caring too often makes that impossible. Delivering new rights to carer’s leave is going to be a game-changer, not just in making life easier for carers, but in helping businesses to keep hold of valued staff, bringing in public revenue through tax receipts and reducing the number of carers who need to apply for support from the welfare system. It is a win-win for everyone. Having no government in Stormont for two years has meant that local carers are now being left behind and missing out on a crucial new employment right that’s coming into force in GB. As a minimum we need to see parity for carers here, but there is also a significant moral, economic and financial case for the Economy Minister to go a step further and deliver paid carer’s leave in Northern Ireland. The Assembly has already stated it’s support for that policy [4] and we want to see it implemented as quickly as possible.”

Natasha McClelland, from Coleraine, works full-time and cares for two children with multiple and severe disabilities. Her employer voluntarily provides additional support for staff with caring roles and she says this makes a big difference to her ability to stay in work. She said:

I’m fortunate that I have access to paid carer’s leave and flexible working to help with my caring roles. When caring emergencies happen my stress levels are massive, but knowing that I can use carer’s leave means I can focus on that without worrying about work or losing wages. It gives me a security net and makes an important difference to me being able to stay in my job. At the same time, this isn’t a legal right in Northern Ireland and it very much limits career progression, because I know that other workplaces don’t have the same policies or protections in place.”


Notes to editors

  1. The Carer’s Leave Act provides a legal entitlement to five day’s unpaid carer’s leave per year for employees in England, Scotland and Wales who are responsible for caring for a sick or disabled dependent. For more information click here.
  2. In Carers NI’s State of Caring survey 2023:
    • 34% of unpaid carers in Northern Ireland said they have left employment to care.
    • 86% said their employer doesn’t voluntarily provide paid carer’s leave for staff.
  3. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2022). Carer’s leave impact assessment.
  4. On 12 March 2024, the Assembly unanimously passed a Sinn Féin motion on workers’ rights, which included support for the provision of paid carer’s leave in Northern Ireland. For more information click here.
  5. There are over 220,000 people providing unpaid care for sick or disabled family members and friends in Northern Ireland.
  6. Carers NI is Northern Ireland’s membership charity for unpaid carers. We work to represent and support the over 220,000 people in Northern Ireland who provide unpaid care for ill, older or disabled family members or friends – fighting for increased recognition and support for all carers and to ensure they have a voice in policymaking.
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