Fighting for Change: Carer Advocate

Mike O’Brien isn’t just a full-time unpaid carer for his parents. He’s passionate about improving the well being of carers across Wales. Over the past three years, Mike has achieved remarkable milestones as carer advocate for unpaid carers. That’s why Mike O’Brien is this month’s inspiration. Let me you tell you more about him, but keep in mind as you read this post, that he does all this whilst still caring full time.

National Register of Unpaid Carers

It all began in 2020, amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike saw first hand how carers were falling through the cracks, missing out on vital information and support. The existing system was fragmented, with carers listed sporadically across GP practices, social services, and various organisations. There wasn’t a comprehensive way to reach all carers in Wales, and this patchwork approach left many without the help they desperately needed.

Taking Action: The Petition

Mike decided to take action. He started a petition calling for a national register of unpaid carers, aiming to gather enough signatures to bring the issue to the Welsh Parliament. His goal was clear: to create a unified system that could identify and support all carers effectively. He collaborated with the Deputy Minister of Social Services Julie Morgan and her aides, who pushed the petition through the Welsh Government Petitions Committee and up to the Carer’s Ministerial Advisory Group. 

Why a National Register Matters

The Hidden Carers

You might wonder why a national register is so crucial. The reality is, many carers, especially spouses, family members, working or long distance carers don’t identify themselves as carers. They see themselves as just fulfilling their roles as wives, husbands, fathers, or mothers. This under representation means they often miss out on vital resources and support simply because they’re not recognised as carers. A national register would change that, providing a clearer picture of who needs help and ensuring that scarce resources are allocated appropriately. It would make targeting policies and initiatives much easier, ensuring that no carer was left unnoticed.

Setback and Resilience

Despite Mike’s best efforts, concerns over costs and data privacy led the Ministerial group to decide that a national register wasn’t a “viable option” at the time. But Mike didn’t let this setback slow him down. His advocacy work extends far beyond this petition, and his determination to fight for unpaid carers continued.


Before becoming a full-time carer, Mike had a successful career in IT. He gave up his career to take care of his disabled mother and step dad, a decision that came with significant physical and mental challenges. They’ve gone through a lot as their health has deteriorated, dealing with emergencies and ensuring that they had the right support in place a long winded and tough process. Tangible support for carers is usually had fought, complicated by lack of resources and funding to value carers. But Mike persisted sometimes working outside the system to get what he needed for his family when support was lacking. He did the best he could and learnt that the system needed to be changed.

Finding Support Online

On social media, Mike shares the toll that caregiving takes, connecting with other carers who understand his struggles. This online community has become a source of mutual encouragement and support, helping Mike and others cope with the daily demands of caregiving. He checks in with other carers daily, offering support, advice, and a listening ear. These small gestures mean the world to those who often feel isolated and overwhelmed. Mike is there to champion their needs and provide a reliable source of encouragement. His kindness and dedication have earned him immense respect and gratitude from the carer community, who reciprocate his support.

Broadening the Advocacy

Media and Charitable Engagement

Mike’s advocacy work doesn’t stop at petitions. He provides vital insights into the life of unpaid carers to various charities and media outlets, including Carers Trust, We Care Campaign, Sky News, BBC Wales Breakfast Radio, LBC, and Wales Online and as a community correspondent for Carers World Live. Mike brings the realities of caregiving to a wider audience, raising awareness and driving change.

Representation and Support Initiatives

Mike’s activism also led him to become an unpaid carer representative for the Cardiff and Vale Partnership Board. This board includes local health boards, authorities, housing sectors, and other groups working together to improve support for local people including unpaid carers. Mike put himself forward for this position to ensure that carers’ voices are heard and their needs are met. Together with his colleague Bobby-Jo, Mike secured a free digital Carers Card UK for local residents. This card provides various benefits and support to carers, recognizing their invaluable contributions. They also helped design and launch the Cardiff and Vale Regional Partnership Board’s Unpaid Carers Charter aimed at identifying and supporting unpaid carers. This charter is a significant step towards acknowledging and respecting the work carers do and helping them lead the lives they want.

Organising Events and Creating Communities

The First Regional Unpaid Carers Assembly

Mike and Bobby-Jo didn’t stop there. They organised the first Regional Unpaid Carers Assembly in November 2023, an event designed by carers for carers. Understanding how difficult it is for carers to take time away from their loved ones, Mike ensured the event was free and secured limited funding for replacement care support so carers could attend. They put together an impressive list of speakers, including Welsh Government members, Carer organisations, the voice of unpaid carers and focused on encouraging and arming unpaid carers with information like learning about co-production, as well as listening to their concerns in breakout workshops. They also live-streamed the event for those who couldn’t attend in person. The assembly was a resounding success, providing a platform for carers to connect, share their experiences, and find support. Here’s a snippet of the day including Mike, speakers, the chair of the CVRPB, and others talking at the event. 

Looking Forward to the Next Assembly

Building on the success of the first assembly, Mike and Bobby-Jo are planning a second annual Cardiff and Vale Unpaid Carers Assembly at Sophia Gardens Cricket Ground on October 2nd, 2024. This event promises to be even bigger and better, with more opportunities for carers to engage and advocate for their needs. You can participate by registering here.


Establishing the Charity

Mike’s commitment to unpaid carers goes even further. He and Bobby-Jo founded a charitable organisation called VOICES ADFOCAD. This charity advocates for the human rights of unpaid carers, focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion. VOICES ADFOCAD works to create a fairer society that recognizes and supports the invaluable contributions of unpaid carers across Wales. 

The Mission

Mike’s vision is for unpaid carers to be heard, included, and respected, and he’s working tirelessly to make that vision a reality. Through his charitable work, Mike has become a powerful voice for carers, bringing attention to their struggles and pushing for meaningful change. His efforts highlight the crucial need for better support and resources for unpaid carers. Mike isn’t waiting around for others to make a difference; he’s leading the charge, pushing for progress from within.

Reflecting on Mike’s Journey

Reflecting on Mike’s journey, it’s clear that his advocacy is driven by personal experience and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by unpaid carers. His charitable work not only brings attention to the gaps in the current system but also provides a platform for other carers to share their stories and find support. Mike O’Brien is a true inspiration, showing us all the power of dedication, resilience, and community. His unwavering commitment to caring for his mum and step dad, and juggling all that entails whilst being a carer advocate makes him my inspiration this month.

Outside of caring, he enjoys a varying range of music from heavy metal to folk music to blues and country and western and relaxes by reading and watching science fiction or fantasy based programmes. You can reach out to Mike by contacting him through

Twitter/X: Mike O’Brien or VOICE ADFOCAD
His Blog – Life of An Unpaid Carer

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