Editor's Viewpoint: Carers deserving of much more support
Imagine you saw an advertisement for a job that said you must be available to work 24 hours a day, are responsible for the care of a person incapable of functioning fully for themselves, you'll be isolated from friends and society at large for long periods, and for all that you will be paid the princely sum of 39p an hour.
Who in their right mind, you might well ask, would ever do that job?
Well, there are 220,000 people in Northern Ireland who do exactly that, not through choice but because they have no option.
They are known as carers.
Yesterday in this newspaper we carried an article by Jane Crosbie Lyle, who has been a carer for her daughter Phoebe after she was left paralysed by a hit-and-run driver 18 years ago. Her account of what being a carer entails was described unemotionally, which made it all the more gripping.
She admits she is lucky in having a husband whose income is sufficient for the household and that there is a care package available to support her. But, as she points out, there are tens of thousands who are not so fortunate.
Instead, they spend their days stoically caring for a loved one, putting their own lives on hold to ensure that their child, husband, sibling or parent gets the best attention they can give.
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The total number of carers include 8,800 young people, a situation which should shame any civilised community, especially a country which counts itself among the wealthiest in the world.
The contribution of carers to society is astounding in financial terms alone - saving the Government £4.6bn in Northern Ireland and £57bn in the UK as a whole.
Their selfless work means the Government can skimp on care packages. And they are not just involved in care.
They are responsible for practically every aspect of the lives of those they care for, bringing them to medical appointments, fighting for their statutory rights and ensuring they get their proper benefits.
Social media is blamed for many ills, but for carers the closed groups can be lifelines where people can exchange views and just normal everyday conversations.
As it is Carers Week, a phone call to a carer, calling in for a cup of tea, or giving them respite even for a short period to allow them to go to the shops or just have time for themselves are among the things any of us could do to ease their workload. It would be better than 39p an hour.