Carers in Northern Ireland need to be supported
Caring and human rights
The Human Rights Commission and Carers Northern Ireland recently launched The Human Rights of Carers. The report examines the lived experiences of carers in Northern Ireland and how their caring responsibility impacts on their enjoyment of rights.
There are now at least 214,000 carers in Northern Ireland providing unpaid care through looking after frail, ill, or disabled family members, partners or friends.
One in five carers gives up work to care, while many others have to adjust working hours to meet caring responsibilities. As a result, carers suffer a loss in income.
Children who are carers do worse at school than their classmates without such responsibilities. A Life and Times Survey in 2010 found that 19% of carers surveyed felt under pressure most of the time and 40% some of the time.
Caring can be fulfilling as well as demanding. Carers want recognition of the role they play and that support should be available and easy to access. Too often, obtaining support becomes a further struggle to overcome.
Human rights have recognised the role of caring in, for example, the right to family and private life in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Carers alongside the person being cared for are entitled to a separate assessment of their needs to identify support and services that can be offered.
There is also a duty on the Department of Health Social Service and Public Safety to promote carers' assessments - yet they are under-utilised.
One way to improve take-up would be for the Social Security Agency to signpost new claimants for carer's allowance to social services to obtain a carer's assessment. This is just one of a number of practical recommendations from the report.
An enhanced rights framework for carers is needed to ensure public services and policies are developed to properly support carers in their work.
This commitment would be a tangible way of recognising the value and importance of carers and the work they do.
Les Allamby is chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission