Northern Ireland

Carer’s Allowance leaves people in ‘abject poverty,’ Stormont committee told

Carer’s NI said one person receiving the weekly £81.90 benefit resorted to making their own female sanitary products

One in four unpaid carers in Northern Ireland are living in poverty according to new research.

NORTHERN Ireland’s benefits system is pushing carers into “abject poverty” and “devastating hardship,” a Stormont committee has heard.

The advocacy group Carers NI told the Commmunities Committee that nearly half (46%) of those receiving the Carer’s Allowance benefit in Northern Ireland are living below the poverty line.

They added that thousands were forced to use food banks and struggling to pay bills like heating and electricity.

The group state that over 48,000 people rely on the Carer’s Allowance, worth £81.90 a week.

They are now calling on the Communities Minister Gordon Lyons to progress a 2022 review from the Executive, which recommended an increase to the payments.

Craig Harrison, Public Affairs Manager at Carers NI, told MLAs that the carer’s allowance was among the lowest in the entire benefits system and left those receiving it facing “devastating financial hardship.”

In Northern Ireland, 46% of people receiving Carer’s Allowance are living in poverty, more than one in three say that they are struggling to afford to eat, one in four are experiencing debt and more than 40% have had to cut back on essentials like heating to get by,” he said.

“When a carer is forced to make her own female sanitary products because she can’t afford to buy them in a shop, we cannot escape the conclusion that Carer’s Allowance is not fit-for-purpose.”

“We must recognise that our unpaid carer population makes a multi-billion-pound contribution to Northern Ireland every year. If they disappeared even for one day, public services would collapse, and in exchange for contributing so much, they deserve better than a social security benefit that systematically traps them in poverty.”

He added that research from Carer’s NI showed that delivering the Carer’s Allowance uplift recommended in 2022 would lift 3,400 unpaid carers out of poverty.

The committee was also told by the charity that there was a “significant moral and financial case” for the Minister to prioritise the reform with what’s left of the current Assembly mandate.