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The ‘obscene’ impact of poverty on unpaid carers in Northern Ireland has been criticised, with a new group of experts from across the UK forming today (18 January) in a bid to root out the problem.

The new Carer Poverty Commission will spend the next 12 months gathering evidence from local households and designing recommendations for the Stormont Executive to help tackle poverty and destitution among Northern Ireland’s carer population. The Commission is led by the charity Carers NI and involves unpaid carers along with key figures from academia, the community sector, food bank providers and other poverty experts from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. [1]

It is launched as recent research from Carers NI showed that nearly one in three unpaid carers in Northern Ireland were struggling to make ends meet, with one in four cutting back on essentials like food or heating to get by.

 

Helen Barnard, renowned UK poverty policy expert who works for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation think tank and research organisation Pro Bono Economics, will chair the group. She said:

I’m delighted to be part of this important new Commission and to work with Carers NI and this highly expert steering group. Caring for our loved ones is at the heart of most families and communities, but is too often under-valued. It’s unacceptable that those doing this vital work so often pay a heavy penalty, both financially and emotionally. We can and must take action to ensure carers have financial security and the right support to enable them to not just survive but thrive.”

Natasha McClelland, from Coleraine, is an unpaid carer for her two children, who have lifelong disabilities. She said:

Far too many people in Northern Ireland are pushed into the most terrible financial positions because of their unpaid caring roles. Carers are paying higher bills for energy, food and travel so we can meet the fundamental needs of our loved ones. Carers have been experiencing persistent financial strain a long time before the rest of society started feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis, and now the situation is even bleaker still. With the little or no financial support we get, I really don’t know how carers are expected to survive financially. We need help and we need it urgently.”

Craig Harrison, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI, said:

During the last 12 months and beyond we have witnessed the obscene impact of poverty and spiralling living costs on unpaid carers in Northern Ireland. This is a population of people who save the public purse billions of pounds in care costs every year, but in too many cases, what they get in return is a life of daily struggle, without enough money to afford the basics or enjoy a decent standard of living. It is a scathing indictment of Northern Ireland that there are local carers today going hungry, sitting in the dark and having to rely on help from charities just to get through the week. That needs to change, and the new Carer Poverty Commission will leave no stone unturned in identifying and designing solutions that will make a genuine difference to the financial health of our unpaid carers.”

Orla Fitzsimons lives in Downpatrick and cares for her three children, one of whom has learning difficulties and complex mental health issues. She said:

The work of the Carers NI Carers Poverty Commission is vitally important to understand and address the drivers of poverty for parent carers like me. Because of lack of support from statutory services, including my son's exclusion from school and community health services, and because of his disabilities, from the age of 6, I had to give up a high paid job in the health service and a research career to care for him. Over ten years later, I still can’t get back into work, and the impact on my and my children's mental health has been terrible, meaning it’s even harder for me to provide for my family financially. The COVID-19 pandemic and now the cost of living crisis only made our situation worse. Parent carers like me have been living in poverty with our children for decades in Northern Ireland. The government in NI will really benefit from the work of the Carers Poverty Commission, in making visible the reasons why so many carers live in poverty, and what can be done to help us and most importantly, our children."

 

Notes to editors

  1. The new Carer Poverty Commission is a 12-month project led by Carers NI. It is funded by the Carers Support Fund, delivered by the Community Foundation NI, supported by the Department of Health. The Commission will deliver new research evidence on the scale and drivers of poverty among unpaid carers in Northern Ireland and the interventions that could make the biggest difference to tackling carer poverty, informing future policy development from the NI Assembly and Executive. The project will be advised by the following Steering Group of experts from across the UK:
    • Helen Barnard (Steering Group chair) – Associate Director at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Director of Policy and Research at Pro Bono Economics
    • Les Allamby – Chair of the Independent Review of Welfare Mitigations NI
    • Pat Austin – NI Director at National Energy Action
    • Fiona Collie – Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers Scotland
    • Jonny Currie – NI Network Lead for the Trussell Trust
    • Ciara Fitzpatrick – Lecturer at the School of Law, Ulster University
    • Orla Fitzsimons – Unpaid carer
    • Dr Colin Harper – Trustee of Carers UK
    • Natasha McClelland – Unpaid carer
    • Sheena McMullen - Action for Children
    • Anne-Marie Murphy – Director of Strategy and Emerging Markets at the Consumer Council Northern Ireland
    • Matthew Oakley – Director of WPI Economics
    • Tamara Sandoul – Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK
    • Karen Sweeney – Director of the Women’s Support Network Northern Ireland
    • Dr Juliet Stone – Research Associate at the Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University
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