Northern Ireland

Unpaid carers in Northern Ireland turning to loan sharks as one in four living in poverty

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

UNPAID carers in Northern Ireland are turning to loan sharks and living in cold homes according to new research.

After gathering evidence for six months in Northern Ireland, experts from the Carer Poverty Commission said that one in four unpaid carers in Northern Ireland were living in poverty.

The report said that severe financial pressures were pushing unpaid carers towards loan sharks, struggling to afford to eat, living in cold homes and relying on charity shops.

Many carers told the researchers that they felt “humiliated” as they felt unable to meet their sick loved ones’ extra energy, food and travel needs.

They have now called for greater welfare support and other measures from Stormont to help carers survive financially.

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Co Down mother speaks of frustration at lack of support for unpaid carers

Over 250,000 unpaid carers in Northern Ireland say their health has suffered

Caroline Brown from Cookstown cares for her autistic son and partner.

“I became a carer in late 2016 and the support you get to help meet the high costs of caring is minimal,” she said.

“It is always a case of, ‘Here’s a form. Fill it in. You’re not entitled to anything’. It is a constant struggle. I care for two people who I love dearly and would move heaven and earth to protect, but it hasn’t been easy.”

She said the financial strain of unpaid care was “incredibly tough”.

“We have three people living on one wage and prices just keep rising and rising. At the supermarket I put my bank card in the machine and just pray it’s not declined. I wake up every morning with a sense of dread and it feels like no one cares.”

She said politicians and government agencies wanted unpaid carers “to go away and be someone else’s problem”.

“I’m not that easily deterred, but the constant fighting and struggling is taking a toll on my own mental health,” she said.

“Carers perform such a crucial function in society, yet we’re ignored, infantilised, made to feel worthless. We are exhausted and drowning under the weight of caring, but have no choice other than to keep going.”

The research also shows that even before the cost-of-living crisis, many unpaid carers were also struggling with the higher medical bills caused by running medical equipment in their home, buying specialist food and frequent travel to hospital appointments.

One carer interviewed for the report said they were afraid to use their washing machine in case they were “pushed into destitution” if it broke or needed to be replaced.

Another said they were embarrassed to have visitors as they couldn’t afford to switch the eating on while trying to survive on a  Carer’s Allowance.

With the new school term approaching, other carers said they were borrowing from loan sharks to afford new uniforms.

The report adds that the unrelenting financial pressures were severely affecting the mental health of carers, with poverty and the pressure of caring causing chronic stress and anxiety.

Craig Harrison is the Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI, who commissioned the report.

“Our research uncovers truly shocking experiences of poverty across Northern Ireland’s carer population,” he said.

“Far too often, the price people are paying for caring for their loved ones is a life defined by debt, desperation and despair, and while they told us that they feel humiliated by the poverty they’re living in, it is the rest of society that should be ashamed of abandoning them to such severe levels of hardship.”

He said that the increasing costs facing households had made a bad situation even worse for carers.

“Many carers are well beyond the limits of their financial resilience and are at risk of going under without greater help,” he said.

“We need our political leaders to put carers at the top of their priority list and give them the financial support they need in a restored Stormont government.”

The new research is to be presented to a delegation of cross-party MLAs and officials from the Department for Communities.

It calls for the reform of Carer’s Allowance, a new payment to help carers afford household essentials and support to help carers enter paid employment.