There is already equality between men and women, even though not everyone believes it. Some people – women included – seem to think that caregivers are of lower status, especially if they are women, and especially if it’s mothers caring for children.
Policy solutions that might enable the equality that already exists between men and women to be fully validated are unlikely to result from Women’s Equality Party proposals on childcare, because childcare was never the main problem in the first place.
The same applies to any other party’s proposals to tackle equality through more commercialised care. Why? Because this narrow and misguided solution is predicated on a mistaken ‘starting point’ ie that invisible care work when carried out by women is essentially unequal work, which it isn’t and never was, unless we believe that the care children need is of no value.
The only thing that was ever ‘unequal’ was the way care work has been shockingly discriminated against, putting too many caregivers at risk of poverty, loss of autonomy, homelessness, exploitation, marginalisation, isolation, with loss of social status and so on…
For too long it’s been too easy to take caregivers for granted even though we know the economy and social cohesion will crumble without the invisible work of family and community.
The kind of thinking which prioritises status and hierarchy – and which devalues family care – also overvalues the worth of paid work. This is because paid work is visible in respect of value of money exchanged and money earned without looking at whether this contributes in a positive way to society and to the greater good.
Let’s consider for a moment the transactional value of childcare for babies or money spent on addiction such as gambling and let’s find out the total value of GDP generated, including for sugary drinks and fast food, or cigarettes and scratch cards. The point is that not all paid work is inherently ‘good’ or ‘desirable’ activity. But no-one cares, because it’s all about the money.
The thing that needs changing is policy discrimination against caregivers, not caregiving itself. All that talk of relieving people from the ‘burden’ of care is discriminatory talk. It discriminates not only against caregivers, but against individuals being cared for – the young, sick, vulnerable, elderly.
It seems that Women’s Equality Party and many others like them only have one interpretation of ‘equality’ in mind and that’s based on more participation in paid work and less caregiving by women (unless the care has transactional value, paid for in hard cash). But what about equality of earnings between ‘people’ and low rates of pay in some sectors? Why is that some people have to work five or ten years to earn what some people earn in just one year?
There is worryingly little attention paid to types of job on offer if people move out of family care work and into employment. It’s often low paid repetitive work, where a person is a cog in the machine of consumerism, soul destroying for some, with poor opportunities for pay progression. Or it could be rewarding work, but looking after other people’s children or parents, which seems like a lot of effort moving people from one place to another, even when they’ve already got a job to do caring for their own loved ones! But apparently it doesn’t matter because any paid position is more ‘valuable’ than essential caregiving, judging by efforts to get everyone back on the pay roll as quickly as possible. And all this effort to move people away from caregiving, even when infants are highly dependent and need someone who is likely to love them forever, as science now explains very well because attachment is based on scientific understanding, not just about the soft stuff!
It’s clearly based on the mistaken assumption that the invisible care work is of lesser value, which it never was in the first place. But we only recognise its value when it’s gone. Sadly, we are witnessing a rise in mental health concerns for children, young people and adults for which there must be a reason. Lack of time for care of each other has to be part of the problem, but proving causation instead of correlation is virtually impossible when so many other changes have happened in technology, social media, global communication.
There’s also an assumption that all women don’t want to care as much, which is also based on pre-conceived notions that they need to escape anything associated with caregiving (rather than the greater likelihood of wanting to escape the anti-care culture and policies that devalue this work, which is another thing altogether).
One solution pushed time and time again is for men to be more involved in care and grandparents too, but this isn’t followed through in policy proposals. If fathers are to be more available at home, then why do WEP (and others) call for more state funded childcare from nine months ? Surely the idea is that families should share care more in the pre-school years, making it less necessary that children under three will need registered provision, thus saving the state billions. The savings could be ploughed back into supporting care-giving parents.
There’s a risk of putting words into the mouths of people who haven’t been approached for their voices to be heard (people quietly getting on with it in homes up and down the country and all over the world). Mothers at Home Matter doesn’t claim to speak for all women and all men. We aim to plug a gap in the policy debate – and to highlight the lack of policies to support caregiving women.
But the problem is a Women’s Party which claims to have the solution for all women at all stages of the family life cycle, through prioritising childcare and ways of encouraging men to be caregivers. At the same time their prejudices against female caregivers are all too clear because they feel uncomfortable mentioning the word ‘mother’ and have so far failed to come up with proposals to support women whilst caring, so that we can begin to see an end to the discrimination against women in that stage of their lives.
In economic terms the value of care – albeit hidden- is hundreds of billions. And as for its social and relational value – probably priceless.. WEP missed a trick in this round, but there is still time for this to be rectified. Anne Marie Slaughter has finally come out to say that caregiving is of equal value in itself….so now we need this ‘unfinished business’ to be tackled by women and female celebrities who have the clout to make a difference in the policy arena. It’s not enough to pretend they care about mothers – they need to prove it with clear policy solutions to support the maternal caregiving years.