“Consider that without caring and caregiving, none of us would be here. There would be no households, no workforce, no economy, nothing. Yet most current economic discussions don’t even mention caring and caregiving.” [‘The Real Wealth of Nations, Riane Eisler.]
The release of yet another report last week highlighting the perilous financial position of many older women, brings all the budget speculation into stark relief. This report, like all the others, shows clearly the long term effects of women’s lower wages, violence and the cost of care on women’s lives.
After years of providing care to others, from children to their own parents, these women are now paying for that care with little or no housing security. Lower superannuation means more women are dependent on the aged pension, but for those not yet old enough, they must try to survive on Newstart. Women lose financially after divorce and for those who do not own their own homes, they are stuck in the private rental market or on the public housing waiting list.
And yet, the discussion about the budget is back to GP co-payments and changes to pensions, instead of addressing this kind of structural disadvantage that affects women hardest.
The most galling thing about this is that the situation of these older women is because they have given over years of their lives to doing all that care work. For many women in this group, they were actively excluded from paid work for much of their lives, and missed out on the accumulation of superannuation. The historian, Marilyn Lake, has written extensively about feminist campaigns for an income that recognised the value of the care work done by women. She notes that ‘women have won equal opportunity and the formal right of equal pay, but the organisation of the workplace is still geared to the masculine experience of autonomy, mobility and freedom from domestic responsibilities.’
Excluding the cost and value of care from budget considerations is more than an ideological novelty. Leaving out care reinforces the notion that this is not work that we all value, and that those who do it have no value. Omitting care from our economic discussions doesn’t make the need for care go away. People get sick, get old, are children. People live with other people, make new people, fuck, fight, love, weep. People care.
A large research project published in 2012, Counting on Care work in Australia, made the financial case for both valuing the work of care, and the impact this has on older women. A key finding was that women contributed to 77% of paid care work and 66% of unpaid care work. The paid care workforce is mostly part-time, and lower paid that other comparable work, and the imputed value of the unpaid care work was an astonishing $650.1 billion for 2009-10. Yep, that’s how much all that unpaid care is worth, yet those who are actually doing that care are hardly treated as having value.
None of these are new ideas, with feminist economists long pointing out that excluding unpaid care work from conventional economic measures was misleading and worse, actively working to disadvantage women throughout their lives. But for the cost of this care to be older women becoming homeless is horrifying.
Instead, Abbott and his mates continue to look for the ladies, and the ALP shreds itself over internal reform instead of getting real about their policy failures on valuing care. The highest income earners know their ludicrous superannuation concessions are safe and that their fuel costs are covered. And women’s work, the work of care, is again excluded.