THE pandemic has highlighted just how vital care workers are to society. But the people who work in this sector have been neglected for too long. It is time politicians realised that care and care work must be central to post-pandemic recovery plans. Not just because it is the caring thing to do – but because it makes economic sense too.
Data from the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) supports a care-led recovery. The WBG is an independent, not-for-profit membership network consisting of women’s voluntary organisations, academics and policy experts campaigning for a gender equal economy. Its data shows that investment in a Scandinavian-style care system (which invests far more public money in the sector) would create more than two million jobs – 2.7 times as many jobs as an equivalent investment in construction.
The understanding of the importance of care has become central to the work of many feminists and it is a key aspect of my own research. Yet it still seems alien to most mainstream, non-feminist economic and political thinking, which cannot seem to see beyond the economic boosts promised by so-called “shovel-ready” construction projects. Indeed, the government’s “Build Back Better” plan for growth talks about infrastructure – mentioning broadband, roads, railways and cities – but does not mention care anywhere.
But there are signs of change. The “American Rescue Plan” announced recently by the US president, Joe Biden, both defines care as part of the country’s infrastructure and promises major investments in the sector.
The experience of lockdown in the UK has increased public awareness of the importance of care work. But this type of work is still disproportionately provided by women, either in the home without pay or as a form of precarious and badly paid employment such as social care work.
During lockdown, people saw that many employees couldn’t go to work when childcare suddenly became unavailable. Many parents who had to work from home realised that looking after children involved hard work which is both time-consuming and energy-sapping. And many who clapped for the carers risking their lives felt that this should have led to a pay rise.