By Tori Watson
"If something doesn't give soon, I am not sure we will survive."
That's the testimony of one unpaid carer currently struggling with the rising cost of living.
Nearly one in four unpaid carers in Northern Ireland have said they are cutting back on essentials such as heating and food "just to get by", according to a survey compiled by Carers NI and shared exclusively with UTV.
The stark data, which had 1,648 respondents, shows that only a third are able to afford to pay their bills.
Meanwhile almost 70% reported that their current financial strains are impacting their mental or physical health.
There are currently more than 290,000 adults providing unpaid care to a sick or disabled family member or friend in Northern Ireland.
One carer is quoted to have said that the thought of winter is "terrifying".
Craig Harrison, Policy and Public Affairs manager at Carers NI, said: "Carers were already facing quite severe financial pressures and above average household bills because of the energy, food and travel that the person they're supporting needs.
"What we're seeing now is more and more carers living hand-to mouth, more and more carers having to make really difficult decisions to get by week-to-week," he added.
"It's not an over-exaggeration to say that many carers are looking towards the winter months, looking towards Christmas and genuinely fearful about whether they're going to make it through at all.
Carers NI has also called for the re-establishment of the Stormont executive.
"Every single day that Stormont is in deep freeze, our unpaid carers are literally freezing in their homes, so we need those institutions back and we need them to pump money into the Social Security System, reform the likes of carers allowance to make it work better for people," said Craig Harrison.
In a statement a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: “The minister has commissioned an independent, comprehensive review of existing and future welfare mitigation measures, including in relation to Carer’s Allowance.
“The report is informed by engagement with a wide range of people who access the social security system and with key stakeholders, including carers, so that their voices are heard on these important issues.
“The Minister has tasked officials to consider the findings of the review, however, the implementation of any new payment schemes will require Executive agreement on the allocation of necessary funding.
“The Minister remains deeply frustrated that the continued absence of a functioning Executive and agreed Executive budget prevents additional measures being introduced to help those most impacted by the current economic crisis," the statement concluded.
Meanwhile, the Health Department said: “We recognise that unpaid carers are a lifeline for those that they care for, and the health service could not survive without each and every one of them.
“The Support for Carers’ Fund launched last year, is actively providing assistance and support for carers on the ground, with funding of approximately £2.5m awarded to date.
"The Department has recently concluded a public consultation on proposals to Reform the Adult Social Care system in Northern Ireland. A central priority of these plans is support for family and unpaid carers and the consultation outlined a number of proposals to improve the support available.
"The Department remains committed to supporting carers, and seeking to find additional ways to provide support where we can, and where pressures allow.
“The Health Minister has been clear that he is very mindful of the cost of living pressures across the wider community and that a sustained and funded cross-Departmental approach is the best way to address cost of living issues and provide citizens with the support they need.”
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