The value of unpaid care for disabled, ill and older people in the UK is equal to the entire budget of the NHS, yet it’s not even counted in our GDP. In a blog for Carers Week, Katy Styles explains why she founded the grassroots, volunteer-led We Care campaign to demand a new deal for the millions of invisible carers like her.
I often reflect on being invisible as an unpaid carer. Invisible to my friends, family, to organisations and definitively to governments. Not content with this sense of invisibility, I founded the We Care Campaign, a campaign for unpaid carers. It’s a grassroots, volunteer-led campaign that amplifies the voices of unpaid carers to decision makers. Carers who join We Care all say the same thing: they know they are invisible too.
In fact, it’s more than a feeling of invisibility: it’s a certainty that I’ve been erased. Erased because I have no paid job, and therefore no economic value to the Chancellor. I pay no taxes, I simply don’t earn.
But I do have a value and this month an academic paper released by the University of Sheffield and Carers UK made this very clear. The research found that the value of the care I give alongside many millions of other unpaid family carers is worth the equivalent of £162 billion a year. It’s too big a figure to imagine. For comparison, that’s equivalent to the entire budget of the NHS.
Why are we missing from official statistics?
Despite the colossal amount of unpaid care provided by our families, friends and colleagues, you never hear about this, do you? In fact, unpaid care is not even counted as part of our Gross Domestic Product. But what if I told you the import, manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs is counted in GDP? Doesn’t that make you mad!
When I discovered this, I was incredulous. I mean, we should have our contribution valued, shouldn’t we? Because I’m providing round-the-clock care that would cost government more. And if I wasn’t keeping the two people I care for out of hospital, it would cost government so much more: a trip to Accident and Emergency costs between £86 to £418 depending on the type of A&E you attend.
All I qualify for, however, as I’m of working age, is Carer’s Allowance (a benefit paid to full-time carers) which is now £76.60 a week. That’s it – that’s my worth to the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions.
Born to be undervalued
And my likelihood of being undervalued? Well, that was in the stars too. If you are a woman you are more likely to care for someone than if you aren’t. If you are a woman of a certain age (yes, I’m there), you have a 55% chance of having a caring role. I never stood a chance: I was born to be undervalued.
Don’t get me wrong; I’d do it all again – looking after the people I love. But I’m just asking that someone somewhere in a position of power does something about this. That they notice us all – every family carer out there – and for much longer than just one week during Carers Week. I want myself and carers’ worth to be valued and action taken. Because, without carers, our whole economy would just grind to a halt.
That’s why We Care is needed now more than ever to address this invisibility. We’ve helped change this ourselves by creating an award-winning film showing carers’ issues. We’ve run petitions and added to parliamentary debates. We’ve given evidence to committees and been interviewed on radio, TV, in print and online.
By Carers Week next year, we want to see those in power have made changes to address carers’ invisibility. That means a fully funded National Carers Strategy; social care systems that work for carers and the people they care for; an NHS that identifies and supports carers; and much-needed breaks for carers.
We also need many more opportunities for carers to bring their lived experience and their voices to decisions made about us. It’s time to value the care I and millions of other unpaid family carers give. It’s time to make us valued and visible.
Are you an unpaid carer in Wales? Want to have your voice heard by decision makers in the Senedd? Join other carers in the We Care network in an online craftivism action, and stitch your message about care to send to Welsh parliamentarians. Register here.