Northern Ireland

Carers leave law could keep 1,000 in work and save Stormont millions in benefit payments, charity claims

Charities and unions call on Conor Murphy to include paid carer’s leave in the new employment rights legislation

The image shows a cosy living room where a mother and daughter are having fun singing together. The daughter is in a wheelchair and the mother sits next to her on a couch and holds microphones that they have created from household items. They look happy and relaxed as they enjoy their creative activity
Analysis by a charity suggests the introduction of paid carer’s leave from work could help at least 1,000 people to stay in employment in Northern Ireland. (Getty/Getty Images)

Introducing paid carer’s leave from work could save Stormont £4 million in benefit payments every year and help 1,000 people to stay in employment, new research suggests.

New analysis from Carers NI found that if a new right to carer’s leave prevented even 1% of those who are currently juggling employment with caring for a sick or disabled loved one from leaving their jobs, and applying for carer’s allowance, 1,030 people could stay in work.

The charity said in that scenario, the executive would avoid spending £4.3m per year in extra carer’s allowance payments, with the UK Treasury potentially benefiting from around £6m per year in additional income tax and National Insurance as a result of those carers remaining in the labour market.

Carers NI said many of the 220,000 people providing unpaid care for sick or disabled family members in the north want, and often, need employment opportunities.

The north’s caring system has come under scrutiny in recent days.

Almost 50,000 people in Northern Ireland currently receive a weekly caring allowance that works out at around £81.90 per week.

While Carers NI said there is a “strong moral case” for the communities minister to increase the support, the charity said Stormont could improve the system with new rights.

It is among the 28 carer charities, trade union leaders and economists who have signed a letter to Economy Minister Conor Murphy, calling on him to workplace protections for carers in his new Employment Rights Bill.

Carers NI said with surveys suggesting one-in-three people in the north have left work due to the demands of caring, its modelling likely under-estimates the potential positive impact of carer’s leave.

Craig Harrison from the charity said the welfare savings and economic benefits are potentially significant.

“Too many people with caring roles are currently being forced out of the labour market because of the lack of workplace support,” he said.

“Legislating for paid carer’s leave could go a long way to addressing that – keeping them in their jobs and contributing to the economy.

“Stormont is used to following the lead of Westminster in updating our employment laws, but the Economy Minister has the chance to lead the way and deliver a win-win policy that would be the envy of all of our neighbours.

“We’re urging him to grasp that opportunity.”