People in Northern Ireland who provide unpaid care for ill or disabled family members are being forced to forego meals and sit in the dark due to soaring prices, according to a new investigation.
Carers NI’s research, based on the experiences of Northern Ireland’s unpaid caregivers and advocacy organisations, claims that unpaid caregivers have been among the worst affected by the cost of living crisis.
It requests that Stormont provide additional financial assistance to prevent caregivers from sliding into poverty.
Joe Dickey provides care for his daughter Ellie, who has Spina Bifida, hydrocephalus and epilepsy.
He told Carers NI: “As a parent of a child with complex needs, the increase in electricity and gas prices mean we have now reached a point where our energy costs are as expensive as a mortgage every month.
“Even in normal times, our fuel bill is more expensive than most of our friends and family, as we need to have the home heated appropriately while also having the windows open to ensure a safe environment with clean air.
“We have an oxygen machine running all day, a ventilator at nights, a blood oxygen monitor on 24/7 and sensory equipment on for most of the day, alongside other medical equipment which needs to be charged.
“The requirement for this equipment hasn’t decreased, but the cost of running it has increased substantially.
“In a household where one parent works and the other is a full-time carer, it is extremely difficult to see how the situation is going to improve.”
Carers NI is advocating for additional caregiver heating payments, the establishment of a programme similar to Scotland’s Carers Allowance Supplement, and other measures to assist unpaid carers in Northern Ireland in coping with the cost of living crisis.
Craig Harrison, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI, said: “Unpaid carers across Northern Ireland are being pummelled by the cost of living crisis.
“Many were already struggling even before the price of daily essentials began to rise so steeply, and we now have carers going hungry and sitting in the dark because they just can’t afford their food, energy and other household bills. This is totally unacceptable.
“These are people that save the public purse billions of pounds in care costs every year. Too often, what they face in return are insurmountable barriers to paid work and a welfare system that doesn’t support even a basic standard of living.
“More and more carers will be pushed into hardship and poverty if we don’t start delivering greater financial support for them.
“Solutions are needed from government and they are needed quickly.”