Editor's Viewpoint: Government is not caring for the carers
There is one group of people in Northern Ireland to whom the government owes a huge debt of gratitude and also a huge financial debt. They are the thousands of carers who look after relatives and even friends without getting paid a single penny.
A look at the statistics show what the financial burden would be on the public purse if there was a properly funded care system. On this, Carers Rights Day, university research suggests 66% of adults in Northern Ireland provide unpaid care for a loved one.
Far from being paid, the research shows that those who become carers lose out financially and physically. Of those who gave more than 50 hours a week to looking after loved ones, almost half reported that their finances had been negatively impacted, 52% had suffered poorer physical health and 77% were suffering from stress or anxiety.
That is a heavy price to pay for a tremendously selfless act.
People will point to previous generations when families felt it was their duty to look after ill or aged relatives. There was no suggestion on the part of most that the burden should fall on the state. Families looked after their own.
But times have changed and with the fragmentation of the nuclear family, the burden of care can often fall on individuals within the family circle.
Trying to juggle work and caring responsibilities is a task beyond many who are either unwilling or unable to shoulder it.
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Women in particular frequently find themselves cast in a caring role with 69% of them being unpaid.
They deserve special help from employers with more flexible working arrangements where possible and the support to return to work if their caring responsibilities cease.
It is reprehensible that the government puts so little investment in caring. Even the carers' allowance is inadequate for the duties carried out and many feel the government is taking advantage of the good nature of ordinary citizens.
This is most pronounced in Northern Ireland where two-thirds of adults provide unpaid care compared to only one in five on average across the UK.
However, the absence of a devolved administration at Stormont means that no action can be taken to help those who most need it. The toxic nature of local politics means there is little room for rational debate on issues like this which really matter but plenty of energy expended on hurling insults.