Invisible and Unsupported - A Statement by the Coalition of Carers Organisations NI for Carers Week 2021
Established in 2016, the Coalition of Carers Organisations (CoCo) is an alliance of community and voluntary organisations collaborating to advance the rights of unpaid carers in Northern Ireland and to ensure carers issues remain on the policy agenda.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the unpaid carers we represent already experienced difficulties in accessing enough practical support and short breaks / respite, juggling work and care and accessing financial support. These challenges have been further compounded by the pandemic, with many coping with additional caring responsibilities and limited or no external support.
A year on from the initial lockdown and we’re disappointed that carers here continue to struggle without sufficient support or a meaningful break.
The Impact of Caring during Covid
Unpaid carers across Northern Ireland are providing support every day to family and friends affected by poor health, chronic illness and other physical and mental health conditions. Many do this round-the-clock while others have to juggle their caring role with other responsibilities such as work and family.
A recent survey and report for Carers Week 2021 showed that:
• 79% of carers here were not able to take a break during the pandemic. (An additional 11% were not able to take enough or sufficient breaks during the pandemic).
• 72% of carers here said their mental health was worse as a result of not being able to take a break.
• 78% of carers here said they were exhausted and worn out as a result of caring during the pandemic.
• 69% of carers worry about continuing to care without a break.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on carers, with the majority providing many more hours of care at home with limited practical support. Caring through the pandemic has taken a significant toll on the physical, mental and emotional health of carers and young carers as they have struggled to access services and take the meaningful breaks from caring they need.
We estimate that the value of the unpaid care provided by carers in Northern Ireland during this pandemic is around £8.3bn, which is:
- Over £1.5bn more than the total DoH budget for 2021-22 (£6.7bn)
- More than half of the value of the total NI Executive budget for 2021-22 (£14.7bn)
- 47 times more than the Department for Communities spent on Carers Allowance in 2019/20.
Despite the huge contribution carers have made during this pandemic they remain largely invisible, and unsupported. Without the support of families and friends caring, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic could have been very different, with health and social care services becoming quickly overwhelmed.
Our organisations are finding more and more carers are continuing to come forward or are being identified with greater levels of stress and increased needs, including carers who have never needed support before.
For young carers and young adult carers, caring for a relative has often come at the expense of their education, work opportunities and time for themselves. Many report that their caring role has resulted in a major increase in lost-learning and that without support to re-establish themselves within the educational curriculum, they may be permanently penalised in terms of life-chances and choices. They also consistently highlight that the cumulative impact of little respite has taken its toll on their mental health and wellbeing and are calling for schools and supporting services to be enabled to offer tailored services for Young Carers and their families as a priority.
Despite the inclusion of carers in the JCVI priority groups, the carer vaccination roll-out and the announcement of the (as yet not delivered upon) carers Covid-19 payment, over a year on from the beginning of the pandemic, the situation of carers hasn’t improved much. In fact, the impact of caring during the pandemic has gotten worse. As the rest of Northern Ireland opens up, day centres, short break and respite services still remain either closed or operating at a reduced capacity, meaning carers are unable to access the meaningful breaks they need in order to continue their caring role.
Without the right intervention, the stress and challenges during this time could lead to carer breakdown, with negative impacts on the carer, the people needing care and the health and social care system as a whole, lasting long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Call For Action
The Coalition of Carers Organisations is calling for:
- The Department of Health and the Trusts to co-produce an Action Plan with carers to fully and safely restore essential services such as day centres, respite services and short break provisions
- Immediate access to breaks and replacement care and more government funding ringfenced for both.
- Health and Social Care Trusts and GPs to identify carers and have a clear carer support pathway. Carers must be included as a priority group requiring emotional support services and interventions such as psychological talking therapies.
- Greater promotion and awareness of Carers Assessments amongst health and social care professionals and carers themselves with the aim of increasing the uptake of Carers Assessments and delivering on the agreed action plans.
- Extra support and special consideration within educational settings for young carers with special consideration of young carers’ emotional wellbeing.
- Carers to be at the heart of social care reform and to see detailed plans for reform (which should include care in their own home or in residential/nursing care) that ensure unpaid carers get the practical and financial support they need to care beyond the pandemic.
- The introduction and roll out of the Carers Covid-19 payment as announced by the Minister in February 2021.
For More Information
For further information on this statement or on the work of the Coalition, please contact the Chair, Clare-Anne Magee [email protected]
 440 days have elapsed between the first full day of ‘lockdown’ (24 March 2020) and the beginning of this year’s Carers Week (7 June 2021). Carers UK estimate the value of care provided daily during the pandemic was £19m in Northern Ireland – see Carers UK (2020). Unseen and undervalued: The value of unpaid care provided to date during the COVID-19 pandemic. (440 days x £19m in unpaid care per day = £8.3bn.)
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