Carers ‘Face Debt And Ill Health’

Carers in Northern Ireland face a future of debt, worry and health problems, a leading carers’ organisation has warned. Carers Northern Ireland was responding to a UK-wide survey of 3,000 carers.

It suggests that those who look after a disabled or chronically ill relative or friend face severe financial penalties. The survey claimed that carers had to cut back on food, heating and clothes, give up their jobs and sacrifice their pensions. Yet, in Northern Ireland alone, carers’ support is worth £1.9bn a year to the state, the organisation said.

Helen Ferguson, director of Carers NI, has called for an overhaul of the current benefits and tax system. “They give so much to society, yet due to caring, they experience ill health and poverty. Carers feel short changed by the system,” she said. “Carers’ benefits were designed in the 1970s when the world was a very different place. What we need is a radical overhaul.

“We also need to invest heavily in social care to ensure that carers and their families can take advantage of things that others take for granted – going out shopping, having a weekend break, going on a course or working.”

Ninety-three per cent of respondents from NI reported that their financial situation had worsened since becoming a carer, compared to an average of 73% across the UK.

About 48% of carers were having trouble paying gas/electricity or telephone bills and the same number were, or had been, in debt. The survey suggested that parents of disabled children under the age of 18 and those caring for their adult disabled children suffered greater debt and difficulty than most.

Ms Ferguson said that the National Carers Strategy review, announced by the British Government was “a golden opportunity” to review the tax and benefits system for carers.