Opinion

I care for my husband and mum full-time, 24/7. The UK government thinks I'm worth £10 a day

As an unpaid carer, no two days are the same, yet they strangely all blend into one. I currently receive Carer’s Allowance which is £76.75 a week - just over 10 pounds a day, less than a dog-walker receives for half an hour of their time

Katy Styles is an unpaid carer for her husband. She’s also the founder of We Care. Image: Clare Randell Photography.

Being an unpaid carer is like living under a Harry Potter style cloak of invisibility. We’re invisible to our friends, families, to organisations and to governments.

I’ve been a carer for my husband Mark, who has a rare type of Motor Neurone Disease called Kennedy’s Disease, since 2014. I also care for my ageing mum, who is increasingly frail after having a series of mini strokes, and my mother-in-law. It’s a lot of caring. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

As an unpaid carer, no two days are the same, yet they strangely all blend into one. There’s always something to do; from attending hospital appointments or meeting with medical professionals to helping my husband do the very basics, like tying his shoelaces, or doing up his buttons when his hands refuse to work.

It’s not easy becoming your partner’s carer, but I know Mark would do the same thing for me. We’ve been together since we were teenagers, so it just feels like it’s the next stage in our long and ever-evolving relationship.

Katy Styles is a full time carer and the founder of We Care.

As well as navigating these shifting relationship dynamics, there are countless other consequences to caring. Take money, for example. I’ve gone from being a full-time teacher to a part-time teacher to giving up teaching entirely. 

I currently receive Carer’s Allowance which is £76.75 a week. It’s given for 35 hours of care but caring isn’t like that; I care for my husband full-time. There is no one else to take over after my ‘shift’ ends, no one else to cover my annual leave; it’s solely down to me. And how much does the government, through Carer’s Allowance, value me at? Just over £10 a day; dog walkers get more than that for a single hour of their time. 

It’s really no wonder that many carers live in poverty. I’m one of the lucky ones because I do qualify for Carer’s Allowance; lots of people don’t; including young carers, carers who are in full-time education, carers who reach retirement age and carers who are also in paid employment.

There are other impacts of caring too; from the physical toll of having to lug wheelchairs in and out of cars to the emotional toll of being so isolated and never being able to do anything spontaneously.

Caring can feel incredibly lonely, despite the fact it’s estimated there are around 10 million unpaid carers like me across the UK looking after friends and loved ones. Most of us are women, too.

Despite caring being ubiquitous, caring is usually done behind closed doors; out of sight and out of mind of political leaders. That’s why earlier this year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new resolution, officially making October 29th the International Day of Care and Support which recognises the work of unpaid carers.

I founded the We Care Campaign in 2018 for similar reasons: because I wasn’t content with being invisible: out of sight and of mind, feeling that my identity and voice had been erased. 

We Care is now an award-winning grassroots, volunteer-led campaign that amplifies the voices of unpaid carers to decision makers. We’re currently working with Oxfam Cymru and unpaid carers across Wales on a craftivism project to try to shine a light on unpaid carers’ voices, insights and needs.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Together, we’ve been stitching our experiences of being unpaid carers onto ordinary yellow dusters, which we’re transforming into powerful, personal campaigning tools. We’re planning an exhibition of our dusters in the Senedd; hanging them up on a simple washing line, to represent how we as carers often feel hung out to dry by politicians and wider society. 

The main feature of my duster is a heart. I’ve worked out that over my lifetime, I have provided the equivalent of 50 billion heart beats of care. That’s a lot for anyone. I’ve also included words about how much caring had actually cost me, financially, emotionally and physically.

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, who’s in a position of power sees my duster, hears my voice and removes the cloak of invisibility that shrouds unpaid carers. It’s time to make us valued and visible.

Katy Styles is a full time carer and the founder of the We Care, a grassroots, volunteer-led campaign that amplifies the voices of unpaid carers to decision makers.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
One in four children start school still wearing nappies – but it's not the parents' fault
One in four children are starting school still wearing nappies, research has found
Juliette Rayner

One in four children start school still wearing nappies – but it's not the parents' fault

Seven of the last nine PMs went to Oxford. Has it gotten us any closer to solving child poverty?
John Bird

Seven of the last nine PMs went to Oxford. Has it gotten us any closer to solving child poverty?

Voter ID rules are racist – let’s get rid of them once and for all
voter ID, local elections 2023
Alba Kapoor

Voter ID rules are racist – let’s get rid of them once and for all

Sunak has been like an automaton for so long. Our leaders shouldn't fear being seen as human
Paul McNamee

Sunak has been like an automaton for so long. Our leaders shouldn't fear being seen as human

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

Support our vendors with a subscription

For each subscription to the magazine, we’ll provide a vendor with a reusable water bottle, making it easier for them to access cold water on hot days.