Valuing the work of care

“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.


About bluntshovels

Freelance writer, with an unhealthy interest in Senate committees.
This entry was posted in economics, housing, social justice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Valuing the work of care

  1. Women of Calibre & Nanny’s seem to be the most important women to this Government, the vast unwashed who actually do all the caring are a silent majority. When every productivity commission or whatever the LNP are calling it this week, is done by business mates, with little or no input from community groups or actual people living & struggling in the real world this issue is never going to be looked at by the current mob. Actually the perversity of the fact that this current mob is supposed to include so many serious practicing Christians just adds insult to injury. Last time I look, Christ advocated ‘caring’ 😦

    As you correctly state, the other side are pretty much doing bugger all as well AND to add insult to injury, are supposed to care about the unwashed workers, guess just not supposed to do a damn thing about the women in the low paid jobs or more importantly the unpaid women who are actually raising the kids, caring for the disabled or looking after the aged parents of all those pleb workers who the ALP are supposed to represent?

  2. Bettsie says:

    So very well said. Women’s work is underavlued whether in paid care work or unpaid community care work. You rightly say that paid care work is largely undertaken by women on a part-time basis. With the current government we have already seen pay increases to workers in both the age care and child care sectors scrapped. The gender pay gap is stagnant at 71 cents in the dollar against male wages, women retire with 33% of the superannunation that men retire with, single parents struggle on Newstart and many women in part-time work identify as being under-employed.

    None of this bodes well of moving women out of poverty and into economic independence.

  3. I care for my husband and I am deeply worried about my future.
    We went from being comfortable to just scraping by. We have no super as we had to take it out early, we are in private rental and we have kids in school.
    I know that I will outlive my hubby, I will go onto newstart, and will be forced to move, either into a tiny flat or in with my mother(hopefully not that).
    I have tried to do courses to update my skills, but am never able to finish them, because hubby worsens or I just can’t manage to care for everyone and keep my sanity.
    I know my future is bleak, and I know that no government will do anything to help.
    rant over.

  4. thank you for the kind words. I am glad to care for my hubby as I love him. The hardest part is keeping the kids in school. Great kids, they want to leave and get full time jobs to help the family. Which makes me proud, but there is no way they are leaving school.

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  6. Sarah says:

    I won’t tell you anything new, but this is the same in any other field.
    You would think past teaches us at least anything, but that’s so rare.
    Feel free to disagree but the world changes rapidly, and none of us have no control over it.
    E.g., imagine Barack had enough balls to put Vladimir to his place, but it seems like it’s not happening, welcome world war.
    A profound post, thanks!

  7. Mindy says:

    Can I nominate this post for the DUFC too?

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  9. Beautifully written… wow. I’m learning to be a midwife, about to join the industry of those paid to care, but I’m also always present to the unpaid caring going on around me, the work I do, the work I notice others doing. So much care… so undervalued and so critical throughout societies and communities.

  10. Karna O'Dea says:

    Raising the working age or rather pension age as it also cruel to many as I have seen my dad retire at 63, he was dead at 67. Who does the liberals think does all the informal care of the frail elderly, grandkids and the disabled, those 60 and up. If Joe has to cost and then pay for this, Joe’s deficit would be beyond imaging and the country would go broke. I see this at our local shopping centre on a week day with women of my age and older with school aged grandkids at heel in the holidays or littlies in strollers, shepherding geriatrics to coffee and shopping and minding kids like my autistic son. So Joe obviously in his narrow spanned male brain had not thought of this. I suspect he does not do much for his own kids and his wife looks after his three while he discovers himself in the house on the hill. I was thinking some of us could lend him our kids and he can have a go living on the carers pension or combing work and care of SN people or his own three, I doubt if he would last long. I tend to be very conservative but I do not like mean mindedness. I am still waiting for my entitlements as I have never seen them. Care should be valued and costed in the budget, take away all the care it would no longer be invisible because it would have to be paid for.

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