Honour Mothers, Honour All Carers with a living wage

This year International Women’s Week ends with Mother’s Day, so for once we can celebrate them together. They belong together. The overwhelming majority of women in the world are mothers (three in four in the UK), but even those who are not, often do caring work for relatives or friends, or fight for justice for loved ones – protecting them from injustice is an integral part of caring.

On 14 March, the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and Women of Colour (WOC) in GWS are launching an international petition at an event to Honour Mothers, Honour All Carers. Many women will be remembered, starting with Eleanor Rathbone, the feminist MP who fought for decades for all mothers to be paid Family Allowance. She finally won in 1945. She shared her life with another woman, neither had children. Campaigning for women, beginning with working class mothers, was her priority.

Eleanor was determined that mothers should get “a share of the national income”. She believed that their work was not only “more important, but so much more skilled, varied and interesting than nine out of ten of the jobs done by working women, or for that matter by working men, that only crass bad management on the part of society has made it seem more distasteful than tending a loom or punching a tram ticket.” (The Disinherited Family, 1924, republished by Falling Wall Press, 1986, p323)

Society’s managers are largely as against the carer now as they were then. Forty years after the present women’s movement began, women still do two thirds of the world’s work, including growing most of the world’s food. We remain the primary carers everywhere: for children, and for sick, disabled and elderly people, in the home and outside, in peace as in war. Yet the global market determines policies and budget priorities. So while the rich get richer, austerity measures take away universal child benefit and Income Support, especially for single mothers, lowers and cuts benefits, and drives families to homelessness and food banks.

Caring is demanding work but the skills it requires are undervalued even in the job market – domestic work, homecare, childcare and even nursing are low paid. As Eleanor Rathbone said: “. . . a people accustomed to measure values in terms of money will persist, even against the evidence of their own eyes, in thinking meanly of any kind of service on which a low price is set, and still more meanly of the kind of service which is given for nothing.” Valuing caring work would change women’s power and public attitudes: it would help close the income gap between women and men, and draw more men into caring.

While various political programmes support a living wage, mothers and other family carers are left out. Our international petition demands that every worker be paid a living wage, including mothers and other carers, and that national and international budgets redirect financial support and resources to this work.  The petition will be launched in a number of countries: from Peru to Tanzania, Ireland, India and the US.

The response to our petitioning has been tremendous. Women and men are keen to sign, keen to talk about their lives of caring despite tightening budgets and lack of support. The rise of women in parliament, in the professions, in board rooms has not resulted in more support for carers. Women MPs have not used their personal experiences to fight for resources for women and defend the welfare state.

There is no Eleanor Rathbone in today’s parliament. But there is a growing movement of carers outside.

Join us on the 14 March, 2-5pm, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, Kentish Town, London NW5 2DX. Speak about who you want to honour and bring her photo if you can.  A raffle will draw on prizes donated by local shops, from a free haircut to a book voucher or meal for two. Find out more

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