The cost of caring
It is forty years since the women of Iceland took a Day Off and brought the country to a halt, and 20 years since we won a commitment from governments celebrating the UN Decade for Women to include the value of women’s unwaged work in their national accounts. Yet women are still the poorer sex, doing 2/3 of the world’s work, including growing most of the food. We remain the primary carers everywhere: for children and for sick, disabled and elderly people, in the family and outside, in war as in peace. Society cannot survive without caring, yet carers are undermined not supported.
An uncaring market
The economic and social priorities that dismiss the carer are determined not by people’s health and well-being, or even the survival of the planet which sustains all life, but by the global market. In 90% of UK families the primary carer is a woman. 79% of austerity cuts have targeted women, that is carers and those we care for. While the 1% more than doubled their income in the last 10 years, and the arms trade has risen by 22%, 1 billion children worldwide live in poverty, 3.7m in the UK and 176,565 surviving on food banks.
Michelle Dorrell spoke for many on BBC Question Time when she attacked government plans to take away tax credits. “I can hardly afford the rent I have to pay. I can hardly afford the bills I’ve got to do, and you’re going to take more from me. Shame on you!” Many go without so their children can eat. Many do three or four low-paid jobs. Many do sex work to pay the rent. Even junior doctors (60% of whom are women under 30) are being targeted: pressured to work longer for less and to lose their maternity protection.
We have got used to measuring sexism by how many women have made it to the commanding heights of the economy and politics. Professor Alison Wolf has attacked as a ‘betrayal of feminism’ this ‘modern obsession’ with women at the top, while the poorly paid mainly women shift workers on which these ‘golden skirts’ depend, are ignored.
When Nadiya Jamir Hussain won the Great British Bake Off she said she was “proud to represent stay-at-home mums” and spoke about the “negativity” she had to face in an age when mothers are expected to prove their worth by going out to work: “As a mum that was quite tough.”
Selma James, co-ordinator of the GWS, points to the neglect of the carer and the people who need care as the basis of sexism. “They don’t want women to have the power that our reproductive work should earn. We are told that a job, any job, is better than caring, and the skills it requires are undervalued and underfunded even in the job market – domestic work, homecare, childcare and even nursing are low paid. Caring is not just an industry profiting from our needs, but the perspective of a movement which is demanding that the market be at the service of people rather than people at the service of the market.”
A living wage for all, including mothers and other carers
Working with women, the policy of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, recognises caring as skilled work; the SNP promises to raise carer’s allowance; and the Greens propose a basic income for all. And what about technology cutting the working day rather than wages so we all have time to care? What about redirecting economic and social policies by paying all workers, including mothers, a living wage?
These issues and more will be discussed at a forthcoming International Women’s Conference, Caring, Survival and Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market, London, Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 November.
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