Almost half of carers in Northern Ireland are indebted and struggle to pay household bills, new research has claimed.
The financial straits endured by many of those who have been forced to give up or cut back on work to look after an older, disabled or seriously ill loved one have been revealed in the year-long study by charity Carers Northern Ireland.
Spiralling costs of caring combined with cuts to support were highlighted by the charity as causes of the hardship levels.
There are an estimated 214,000 carers in Northern Ireland.
The charity's Caring & Family Finances Inquiry found that many have accumulated unmanageable debt as they struggle to cope with loss of income, savings and benefits alongside rising everyday food, fuel and care related bills.
Charity director Helen Ferguson said carers not only believe they are not recognised or valued in society but also feel victim of increasing public criticism for claiming their social security entitlements.
"Those caring, unpaid, for loved ones save society vast sums, but at huge personal cost - a cost this inquiry shows is pushing families to the brink," she said.
"Caring is often a dual blow, with household incomes hit by reduced earnings, and bills rising as a result of the extra costs of ill-health or disability.
"With an ageing population, more of us will care for loved ones - yet a blizzard of cuts to social care and benefits mean there is less and less support available. This is unacceptable and unsustainable. This country's carers are being badly let down. Unless government acts to stop the cuts to support for carers there is the risk families will be pushed to breaking point."
The charity's research found:
:: More than four in 10 carers (42%) were unable to afford utility bills.
:: Almost half (46%) were in debt as a result of caring.
:: One in seven adults in Northern Ireland said their work was negatively affected by caring.
:: 11% of adults in Northern Ireland, 151,811 people, had given up work to care at some point.
:: Almost half (45%) of working-age carers are in a household with no-one in paid work.
:: 70% of carers in Northern Ireland are spending more than 10% of their income on fuel bills.