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Who cares about the carers?

MORE than 15,000 Northern Ireland pensioners aged 70 and over are providing a minimum of 35 hours unpaid care every week, the equivalent of a full-time job. And over 400 of them are 90 years or older, an investigation by Detail Data has revealed.
In 2014/15 just £1,231,709 in Carer's Allowance was claimed by carers who saved the NI Health Service more than £4.6 billion

Carers NI has warned the figures – calculated through an analysis of Carer’s Allowance claimants - are just the tip of the iceberg. It comes as Carers’ Week gets underway with the 2016 campaign focusing on building carer friendly communities.

Research for Carers UK estimates there are now more than 220,000 carers in Northern Ireland – a 20% increase since 2001. The charity places their economic contribution at £4.6 billion a year – similar to the entire 2016/17 Stormont health budget. Yet Department for Social Development (DSD) figures show Carer’s Allowance is paid out to only around 43,000 people.

According to Carers NI there are thousands of people suffering financial hardship, isolation and ill health as the numbers caring for family and friends continue to rise with an ageing population and pressure on health and social care budgets. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) projects the population aged 65 and over will increase by 25.8% between 2014 and 2024.

Detail Data scrutinised May 2015 benefit claims from 68,800 Carer’s Allowance claimants including information on their postcode area, age, gender and the amount they receive per week. This revealed:

  • Carers (aged over 16) are providing at least 2.4 million hours of unpaid care every week – if that care was provided by a home help on the minimum wage that could cost the government more than £16 million a week in wages alone
  • 64% of carers are female with one in five of all carers aged in their 50s
  • On average, carers receive £38.50 Carer’s Allowance per week – that equates to £1.10 an hour compared to a minimum wage of £6.70 or £7.20 for the living wage
  • Almost half of carers have been caring for 35 hours or more a week for longer than five years

Although DSD states there are 68,800 Carer’s Allowance claimants, the data shows that almost 25,000 of those claimants are not receiving the benefit because of an overlapping benefit rule. For example, 89% of them are receiving a state pension. The statistics don’t include young carers under the age of 16, anyone caring less than 35 hours a week, anyone earning more than £110 a week, anyone in full-time education and hidden carers.

Our interactive map, which can be accessed here, shows the highest numbers of Carers Allowance claimants live in the postcode districts BT48 (3,320), BT34 (2,490), BT47 (2,470) and BT35 (2,300) which cover Derry, Newry and South Down and Newry and South Armagh.

Carers NI

Voluntary groups have warned government is not doing enough to support unpaid carers whose dedication allows thousands of seriously ill people to retain their independence and continue to live in their local community. There is no reference to carer/carers in the draft Programme for Government 2016-2021.

Detail Data has joined forces with Carers NI who will today launch a report at Stormont which highlights key issues relating to carers. MLAs will be asked to pledge their support to unpaid carers.

Carers NI general manager Clare-Anne Magee has urged government to work with voluntary and community organisations and local carer support groups to “make a difference to carers living in Northern Ireland”.

The damning report shows that many carers are struggling to make ends meet.

  • 28% of carers are in debt as a result of caring
  • 51% had no one in the household in paid work
  • 68% are caring for more than 50 hours a week
  • Almost a third had a disability themselves
  • Of almost 200 people surveyed many spoke of suffering anxiety and stress.

During a week in April Carer’s NI monitored calls to its advice line for Detail Data. Click here to read some of those case studies.

Lesley Johnston, Carers NI advice and information officer, explained: “Unfortunately a lot of the people that we get coming to the advice line come to us at crisis point. Very often people are getting into debt before they even contact us.”

More than 1,500 carers contact Carers NI’s advice line every year but that vital service as well as the support services and carers’ support groups they facilitate could be under threat because of government cuts.

Mrs Magee said: “The main issue in relation to funding is that our core grant from the Department of Health is being reduced by 25% this year and 25% next year and this is going to have a major impact on us as well as other organisations in the sector.”

Carer's Allowance

The number of Carer’s Allowance claimants has increased almost ten-fold in the last 10 years.


May 2005

May 2005

May 2010

May 2010

May 2015

May 2015



all ages


all ages


all ages















Carer’s Allowance claimants (number of people on the administrative system) and recipients (those who actually receive a payment) by age group, May 2005 - May 2015. Source Department for Communities.


There has also been a 177% increase in the number of over 65 year olds claiming for providing care but a drop in those actually receiving Carer’s Allowance over the decade. The percentage of claimants in receipt of Carer’s Allowance has also fallen from 71% in May 2005 to 62% in May 2015.

The new Department for Communities – which has taken over DSD’s functions - will apply already agreed changes to the welfare system which could also impact on the benefits carers receive. A person will no longer be entitled to Carer’s Allowance or Carer’s Premium if the person they care for doesn’t qualify for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Caring for Carers

Carer’s NI also believes an urgent review of the 10-year-old strategy Caring for Carers is needed. The Department of Health policy acknowledges that “carers reduce the amount of input that health and social services and other agencies need to make”.

Almost half of carers told Carers NI they have received little or no helpful information from government or carers’ service about where to go for support. Many cited problems with Carers’ Assessments which provide an opportunity for carers to discuss with their local social care trust what support they need.

Carers NI’s Clare-Anne Magee explained:

Carers’ Assessments need to be more than a tick box exercise. They are something that should be offered to all carers under the Caring for Carers strategy. We have heard from carers that they think it’s very formal, they don’t like the term assessment and don’t necessarily think they require an ‘assessment’.”

Detail Data’s analysis of Carers’ Assessments found the percentage completed is at its lowest since March 2012. Latest figures show just 40% were accepted/completed in December 2015 and 60% were declined by carers – an ongoing trend since June 2011. Of those declining:

  • 19% felt the time/place/environment offered was unsuitable
  • 17% did not see themselves as carers
  • 17% wouldn’t give a reason
  • 6% didn’t want to discuss their caring duties

Although Caring for Carers dedicates a section to young carers and highlights the importance of providing support for them, neither the Departments of Education nor Health holds figures on the number of young carers aged under 16. However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the “numbers of young carers up to the age of 18 availing of services by trusts” was 547 as of March 31, 2015 adding “these numbers do not include all young carers only those availing of services”. In comparison Crossroads Young Carers estimates there are more than 8,000 young carers in Northern Ireland with the youngest aged just five.

To read the full data story by Lindsay Fergus, click here

To access the Carers Allowance data, click here

As part of this story, Carers NI monitored a week of calls to their advice line. To read some of those case studies, click here


Looking for advice? Contact Carers NI
Phone: 028 9043 9843 or 0808 808 7777 (advice line)
Email [email protected].

For an online benefit check go to

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