What does it mean to be a carer?

Professor Ann Stewart, University of Warwick, UK.

Book Cover for ReValuing Care in Theory, Law and Policy

ReValuing Care in Theory, Law and Policy: Cycles and Connections

Why would anyone want to call themselves a carer?  Are not all of us carers in one way or another?  As feminists have long argued we all give and receive care to a greater or lesser extent throughout our lives, as friends, lovers, family or community members. Privileging ‘a carer’ is to isolate a particular form of autonomous actor when we need to recognise that all are involved in relationships that are fundamental to the functioning of any society (Herring 2013).

Yet caring is often not recognised, as a number of international organisations, academics and activists have argued in the debates over the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (Razavi 2007, Sepuldeva 2014, Budlender and Moussié 2013). They have called for policy development to take account of the 3 Rs – recognise, reduce and redistribute the burden of care (Elson 2008), with some success.  Target 5: 4 of the SDG equality goal requires all to: recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.

While raising the political profile of unpaid care is important, framing the ‘problem’ in this way can obscure the wider implications of what feminist political economists term social reproduction (SR). Rai and Hoskyns describe it as:

biological reproduction; unpaid production in the home (both goods and services); social provisioning (by this we mean voluntary work directed at meeting needs in the community); the reproduction of culture and ideology; and the provision of sexual, emotional and affective services (such as are required to maintain family and intimate relationships) (2007, p. 300).

SR captures the crucial relationship with ‘productive’ activities while recognising the range of ‘tasks’ involved. It encourages us not to focus only on specific groups who are seen as in need of care or who provide particular forms of care.  It avoids the language of ‘burden’ while requiring us to address what feminist political economists call ‘depletion’.  Rai, Hoskyns and Thomas define depletion in SR as ‘the gap between the outflows – domestic, affective and reproductive – and the inflows that sustain health and well-being’ (2014, p. 86). Depleted social reproduction (DSR) is the level at which ‘the resource outflows exceed resource inflows in carrying out social reproductive work over a threshold of sustainability, making it harmful for those engaged in this unvalued work’ (ibid., p. 88–9). They argue that there are ‘three strategies to reverse DSR – mitigation, replenishment and trans-formation’ (ibid., p. 98). DSR is mitigated ‘when individuals attempt to lessen the consequences by, for example, paying for help’. It is replenished when ‘states or private bodies contribute to inflows’ ….). Restructuring of gender relations and the recognition and valuation of SR are necessary for its transformation (ibid., 2014, p. 99).

Thus for policy makers to recognise SR it is essential to develop appropriate ways of measuring the net cost of SR. It has to be quantified in some way.  In legal terms it has to be ‘claimable’ but on what remedial basis?  Is an individual being ‘compensated’, ‘rewarded’ or ‘remunerated’ (Sloan 2013: 24)? Each remedy points to a different way of valuing the activities associated with caring and mitigating the consequences. Compensation focuses ‘on the loss or detriment suffered by the carer as a result of taking on caring responsibilities’ (ibid.). Or is ‘the true value of the services performed by the carer as a benefit conferred on the care recipient […] recognised only if we are prepared to speak of “remuneration” or “reward”’ (ibid.)?

My chapter in the ReValuing Care edited collection (Stewart 2017) focuses on the way in which carers in the UK are understood in the domain of paid work, within recent social welfare legislation, notably the Care Act 2014 and in private law. What do we learn from the way in which carers appear in these different areas of law? What form of value is associated with these different locations? Is there any coherence in the way in which carers are valued for their activities? If so, is carer status associated with a reward for altruism, compensation for the social and economic costs associated with caring, or recompense for labour expended? Are carers valued as workers, as citizens, or as community or family members? Are they valued for doing something ‘out of the ordinary’? Through the development of this legal identity are we seeing a value being given to caring as a form of socially reproductive labour more generally?

I am presently developing these ideas further with the benefit of a Leverhulme Fellowship. My focus shifts to Kenya where I am considering the contribution of community-based ‘woman to woman’ marriage practices to the provision of care, particularly for the elderly, when there is little social protection available for the elderly. Ojwang and Kinama describe the practice:

‘Woman-to-woman marriage is the traditionally recognised union between two women, one of whom pays the dowry in order to marry the other woman. ….. [I]t is usually a union aimed at promoting the social or economic status of the women who participate in it. … The purpose of the union is the continuation of the family line and the enjoyment of a family life’. (2014, p 416)

The research seeks to explore the extent to which and the way in which such arrangements provide support and/or security for the parties involved and their dependants.  The aim is to understand whether the everyday practices of caring for older people particularly women, traditionally woven into communal relations, are changing in the socio-economic and political circumstances of contemporary Kenya. Are woman to woman marriages evolving into a way of recognising and ‘rewarding’ caring labour undertaken by younger woman for some older women who have access to some assets? How are claims for recognition particularly made by the younger woman understood in the ‘formal’ courts and within community dispute resolution practices?

References

Budlender Deborah and Moussié Rachel (2013) Making care visible Women’s unpaid care work in Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya Action Aid Available: http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/making_care_visible.pdf

Elson, Diane 2008 ‘The Three R’s of Unpaid Work: Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution’, Expert Group Meeting on Unpaid Work, Economic Development and Human Well-Being, UNDP, New York, November

Herring, Jonathan (2013) Caring and the Law Oxford and Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing

Hoskyns, Catherine and Rai, Shirin M. (2007) ‘Recasting the Global Political Economy: Counting Women’s Unpaid Work’, New Political Economy, 12(3): 297–317.

Ojwang, Jackton, B and Kinama, Emily, N (2014) ‘Woman-to-Woman Marriage: A Cultural Paradox in Contemporary Africa’s Constitutional Profile’ Verfassung und Recht in Übersee VRÜ 47: 412-433.

Rai, Shirin M, Hoskyns Catherine and Thomas Dania (2014) ‘Depletion’ International Feminist Journal of Politics 16(1): 86–105.

Razavi, S. 2007. ‘The Political and Social Economy of Care in a Development Context’. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Gender and Development Programme, Paper Number 3.

Sepulveda Magdalena Carmona (2014) Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights A/HRC/26/28 Geneva: United Nations

Sloan, Brian (2013) Informal Carers and Private Law Oxford and Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing

Stewart, Ann (2017) ‘Carers as Legal Subjects’ in eds Rosie Harding, Ruth Fletcher, Chris Beasley ReValuing Care in Theory, Law and Policy: Cycles and Connections 148-164.

Care Paid and Unpaid: Social, Economic and Human Rights Concerns

by Dr Joan Garvanwww.maternalhealthandwellbeing.com

Attempts to achieve gender equity have reached a new high water mark and the recognition and redistribution of care, both paid and unpaid, stands at the centre of this arena. The Australian secretariat – Economic Security 4 Women – have produced landmark reports, both scoping and quantifying the value of the ‘care economy’ and, more recently, Professor Marilyn Waring addressed the topic of care and dignity in the annual Pamela Denoon Lecture Series. Here below are key points from these papers and central messages made by Waring.

Two significant Australian reports on the care economy have been produced over recent years: Scoping the Australian Care Economy A Gender Perspective (2010) and Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012). These projects are concerned with the lifelong economic well-being of women. Though they are particular to Australia and reference local government policies, programs and strategies, they draw from an international body of research and deal with common concerns.

The first report references the importance of data collection and brings attention to landmark work in the Massachusetts case study that used United States Census and Time Use data to measure both paid and unpaid care work [1]. The author Valerie Adams notes tensions between unpaid work, voluntary work and paid work. She draws attention to the ‘relational’ nature of care work, and references the concept of ‘provisioning’ for human need. The report used the notion of ‘care work’ to depict both the paid and unpaid sectors. Adams considers definitions and current issues in the Australian care economy. She surveys relevant government policy and makes numerous recommendations for further research and data collection.

Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012) further develops this arena by quantifying the value of the paid and unpaid care sectors to the Australian economy. In 2009-10 twenty per cent of all paid employment in Australia was in the care sector. Care workers receive 96 cents for every dollar earned by the average Australian worker, and female workers earn on average 84 cents in the dollar to male care workers. The report valued the unpaid care sector at $650 billion with sixty per cent of this contribution being made by women aged 25 to 64. The report furthermore outlined and quantified government investment in the care sector. The authors make recommendations for further work in light of: demographic change; inter-generational concerns; and the continuing economic and life course implications for women.

Marilyn Waring prefaced her recent lecture Care and Dignity: Major challenges to economics and human rights (transcript and video available online: http://pameladenoonlecture.net/) with the proposition that over millennia care has been the primary responsibility of women. She has changed her emphasis since the publication of Counting for Nothing: What men value and what women are worth (1988) [2] and now frames these concerns within a Human Rights perspective.

Waring raised problems for the use of ‘care’ as an analytical category, arguing that most often carers are responsible for a myriad of associated tasks that could be lost through a continuing association with unpaid work. Nevertheless, drawing from studies from British Colombia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United Kingdom, she sets out a strident case whereby the human rights of care givers are being flouted. She and others set up a questionnaire for a Commonwealth report drawing from Amartya Sen’s capability approach to human rights which references choice, rest, health, meals, work and political involvement, and found multiple breeches.

With governments around the world withdrawing from social and welfare programs these kind of arguments are critical if we aren’t going to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Care, both paid and unpaid, are clearly significant to the health and well-being of the community, but further to this gender equality will remain allusive if we don’t see transformational change. Unfortunately the issues are complex and though there is increasing reference to the work of unpaid care in terms of achieving gender equity, there is a need to bolster and popularize the debates.

References

[1] Albelda, R., Duffy, M., Folbre, N. (2009), Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, MA, Massachusetts

[2] In a recent anthology, Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics, edited by Margunn Bjornholt and Ailsa McKay, 31 authors from nine countries outline the wide ranging impact and resonance of Professor Waring’s work as well as the current frontiers of feminist economics.

 

 

When Caring Goes Wrong: Rehoming Unowned Dogs

By Marie Fox

Those of us who share our lives with dogs know that interspecies relationships are an important and mutually enriching basis for caring practices, yet it is also evident that dogs are often victims of a complete lack of care. These extremes of care are vividly captured in the contrast between the casual cruelty of the 27 year old trainee solicitor sentenced to 18 weeks in prison last month for leaving her boxer dog to starve in a locked kitchen, and the tenacity with which homeless people cling to their relationship with their dogs notwithstanding the difficulties this may pose to them in finding a home. Paradoxical attitudes also characterise media responses to dogs. At the same time that television programmes celebrate The Wonder of Dogs, newspaper reports disproportionately depict dogs as out of control weapons or feral killers. In a familiar litany of reporting of dog attacks on humans, common features are a focus on breed, a desire to impose responsibility and a failure to address the root causes of our problematic relationship with dogs. Over the last few months this is evident in accounts in February 2014 of dog attacks in Blackburn, where an eleven month old girl, Ava-Jane Corless, was savaged as she slept in her bed by an American pit bull type dog owned by her mother’s boyfriend, in Carmarthenshire where Eliza-Mae Mullane, a six day old girl, died having being pulled from her pram and bitten by her family’s Alaskan Malamute who had been acquired from someone in a pub, and in Lincolnshire where in March another pit bull type attacked a 22 year old woman walking near an old quarry.

Malamutes and bull breeds figure disproportionately amongst the sheer numbers of unwanted dogs that are stretching the resources of local authorities, charities and dog rescues. The 2013 Annual Stray Dogs Survey by Dogs Trust reveals that 111,986 stray and abandoned dogs were picked up across the UK over the last 12 months, equating to 307 stray dogs being found every day. Many are bull breeds, victims of a process of media stereotyping fuelled by the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act which in categorising pit bull terriers as dangerous dogs, has served to make all bull breeds perversely attractive to the wrong sort of owner. One particularly tragic case highlights the potential for well intentioned and caring actions to go wrong in the world of dog rescue. In November 2013 four year old Lexi Branson died after being mauled by her family’s dog Mulan. According to newspaper reports Lexi’s mother, Jody Hudson, fatally stabbed the dog in a frantic attempt to save her daughter when he attacked her on the floor of the lounge in their flat. It transpired that Mulan was an American bulldog type who had been adopted by Lexi’s mother in August 2013 from a Leicestershire rehoming centre. The rehoming reportedly took place after she had seen a picture of the dog in the rehoming section of the rescue’s facebook page. A friend of Ms Hudson reported that the dog had a soft nature and that Ms Hudson had been told he was safe around children. The rescue declined to comment. In the absence of all the facts it is important not to judge actions, as anyone involved in dog rescue will testify.

I volunteer with one of the many small dog rescues struggling to cope with Britain’s unwanted dogs. We work closely with a local authority pound in the North West of England to provide emergency kennel space for dogs who have not been reclaimed, rehomed or offered a rescue space within seven days. At this point they can lawfully be humanely destroyed under s 149 Environmental Protection Act 1990. A key aim of organisations like ours is to place our dogs with bigger and better resourced rescues. However, typically, due to their fear of being overrun with too many unwanted breeds, it falls to smaller rescues to rehome bull breeds – mostly Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses. We homecheck for our dogs as carefully as possible, requiring prospective owners to complete forms, submit to a home visit, visit the dog in kennels and ensure that dogs are neutered and vaccinated prior to rehoming while dogs are not placed in a home with children under 10 years old. However a consequence of such conditions is that we lose out on good potential homes and in many cases prospective adopters will simply buy a puppy or adopt from a rescue too stretched to impose such conditions. And notwithstanding the care taken and great joy of waving a dog off to a new home, the process is inevitably accompanied with apprehension that things may go wrong, given the difficulties of adequately assessing dogs in a kennel environment.

However in the absence of the full story in most of these cases there are nevertheless a number of conclusions we can draw about media reporting and the reaction it has provoked which serve to highlight our flawed thinking about dogs. Initial media reports of the Branson case pictured Lexi with her uncle’s Dogue de Bordeaux who was erroneously deemed responsible for the attack and wrongly described as a French mastiff. The upshot was that breed specific rescues were reported in dogworld as having been inundated with calls from concerned owners wishing to give up their dogs. When pictures of Mulan were published, the immediate response of bull dog rescues was to deny that Mulan was a ‘British bulldog’, with an editorial in dogworld opining that “After some initial confusion, the dog responsible for this incident is now referred to as a bulldog even though it bears little resemblance to the pedigree Bulldogs bred in this country.” Such responses strike me as reflecting the manifold failures of social attitudes including UK law which casts dogs as disposable commodities and indiscriminately stigmatises certain dogs purely on the basis of their morphology or breed type. Media narratives which reify this focus on breed, and implicitly criticise the irresponsibility of a mother in choosing to allow into her home a dog of uncertain pedigree and origin, or rescues which somehow failed in an ill-defined area, obscure the root causes of indiscriminate breeding which produces unhealthy or ill socialised puppies, dangerous dogs legislation which has compounded the problems of unwanted and often traumatised bull breeds and a legal strategy of ascribing responsibility for stray and unwanted dogs to local authorities which are already struggling to fulfill their core responsibilities and are ill equipped to cope with the complexities of dealing with stray and dangerous dogs. Against this backdrop blaming a mother for her caring action in adopting a dog in need of a home, a not for profit organization struggling to fill the gaps in state provision or even the dog himself is manifestly ill conceived. Until our outdated and paradoxical legal attitudes to dogs are tackled, tragedies such as these unfortunately seem unavoidable, however much well intentioned individuals and dog rescues strive to care.

Considering Age Relations in Research on Care

Rachel Barken

Concerns abound regarding the social, political, economic, and individual changes necessary to care for a growing population of older adults experiencing physical and cognitive decline.  These concerns are evident in academic scholarship, with a large body of research advancing theory and practice on caregiving and receiving in later life. Despite this focus on older adults, however, the ways age relations frame experiences of care are not clearly articulated. The concept of age relations, which owes much to the work of Toni Calasanti (e.g. Calasanti, 2003, 2006), considers the structured social relations that frame interactions among members of different age groups. Age is relational because one’s membership in an age group is defined in relation to other age groups, and because membership in these groups forms the basis for access to, or exclusion from, various rights and privileges. Inequalities among age groups intersect with other power relations associated with gender, class, and race/ethnicity. In this blog post I outline three ways theorizing age relations might move forward perspectives on later life care.

First, theorizing age relations helps to understand how care for older adults is conceptualized differently than care for people in other age groups. Feminists have long recognized that patriarchal conditions diminish the value of caring for ‘dependents,’ including children, disabled people, and older adults. But the devaluation of care work depends on the social status of those who are being cared for (Calasanti, 2006). The theory of age relations, with its emphasis on relational inequalities between and among members of different age groups, helps to explain why some forms of care are more highly valued than others. Because youth is regarded as a transitional status with such positive attributes as “ ‘hope’ or ‘future,’ ” (Calasanti, 2003, 208), childcare is often considered a generative task. By contrast care needs in later life are typically associated with physical decline, impairment, and weakness. These conditions present a permanent change in status and exclusion from previous activities rather than a temporary sick role from which one will emerge. Thus, older adults needing care are often viewed as a burden. The prevalence of debates regarding ways to minimize the economic and social costs of eldercare and the low status and of paid and unpaid caregiving for older adults are indicative of the inequalities among age groups that tend to disadvantage older adults and those caring for them.

Second, theorizing age relations brings into view the structured contexts that shape experiences of care. Social relations are structural in the sense that they frame people’s life course experiences and relationships with others. Theorizing age relations reminds us that the problems associated with later life cannot be solely attributed to physiological aging processes or to individual decisions made throughout the life course; rather, they emerge in socio-structural contexts.  For example common understandings and responses to age are embedded in policies guiding the distribution of pension incomes and spending on health and social care. These policies have a very real impact on older adults’ experiences of giving and receiving care.

Third, theorizing age relations gives insight on the intersecting relations of advantage and disadvantage—including class, age, gender, and race/ethnicity— that frame caregiving and receiving. These relations do not completely determine people’s life chances, but they do frame the contexts in which individuals act and interact (McMullin, 2000). An important difference between age relations and other forms of inequality is that aging is a universal experience. All people who live long enough to grow old will experience the marginalization associated with later life in an ageist society (Calasanti, 2003). The extent of this marginalization varies, though, as it intersects with class, gender, and race/ethnicity relations occurring throughout the life course. A framework that accounts for intersecting relations of inequality helps to explain, for example, older adults’ differential access to care and involvement in caring relationships.

Theorizing age relations has much to contribute to critical understandings of later life care. Debates regarding the relative influence of structure and agency, however, point to the potential limits of age relations. This concept recognizes that individuals hold the capacity to exert agency in the context of structured social relations, but primarily emphasizes the structural conditions that disadvantage older adults. This focus on disadvantage might inadvertently contribute to older people’s powerlessness. To avoid this risk, age relations must be theorized from the standpoint of older adults’ everyday, lived experiences (King, 2006). Theorizing age relations in research on older adults’ experiences of giving and receiving care can shed light on a private setting in which relations of dependency, power, and control between and among members of different age groups are worked out.

References:

Calasanti, T. M. (2003). Theorizing age relations. In S. Biggs, A. Lowenstein & J. Hendricks (Eds.), The need for theory: Critical approaches to social gerontology (pp. 199-218). Amityville, NY: Baywood.

Calasanti, T.M. (2006). Gender and old age: Lessons from spousal care. In T. M. Calasanti, & K. F. Slevin (Eds.), Age matters: Realigning feminist thinking (pp. 269-294). New York: Routledge.

King, N. (2006). The lengthening list of oppressions: Age relations and the feminist study of inequality. Age matters: Realigning feminist thinking (pp. 47-74). New York: Routledge.

McMullin, J. A. (2000). Diversity and the state of sociological aging theory. The Gerontologist, 40(5), 517-530.

 

 

 

 

‘Dangerous Care’ by Ann Stewart

Last week, three care workers from Hillcroft nursing home were jailed and a fourth given a community sentence for tormenting and abusing elderly residents with dementia. Their actions were described by the trial judge as “gratuitous sport at the expense of vulnerable victims”.  This high profile case adds to a depressing list of abuse of frail elderly and vulnerable people amounting in many instances to criminal behaviour on the part of care workers.

This blog is a personal reflection on these events although I do have an academic interest in body work and the regulation of care.  My first reaction when I read or see the coverage is to feel sick.  I am taken back instantly to the emotions I experienced in relation to my own parents.  They lived until their late 80s together in their council bungalow in a village until my mum’s physical health deteriorated significantly.  Dad was not able to look after her adequately and I took over responsibility for them.  Eventually they came to live with me and for two years or so I became immersed in the world of ‘care’ – high intensity emotional contexts, exhaustion and persistent low level frustration caused by every day events coupled with constant anxiety about their wellbeing.  I hated to think of their vulnerabilities being exposed.  I wanted everyone around them – care workers, nurses, my friends, neighbours and adult children to see them for what they were – simple ordinary people – nothing special – at the end of their lives.  I wanted people to like them – to see through all the stuff that comes with frailty in old age – and to treat them well and with respect.  I can’t bear to think about what has happened to people like my mum and dad, although neither had the added vulnerability of dementia in the situations described in these cases. I am of course not alone in this – the relatives and friends of those who experienced the abuse say the same: they are angry and feel guilty.  I understand the guilt while recognising that it is inappropriate.

My second reaction focuses on the pictures of the workers, described as bullies, monsters, callous and hard hearted and a disgrace.  I find it difficult to join in the ‘how could they?’ responses.  I was constantly anxious about the demands that my mother in particular presented to those who cared for her.  I worried all the time that they were unreasonable – I often found them unreasonable when I was doing the caring – while at the same resisting this way of thinking about her – why was I expecting her to be reasonable?  What did that mean – complying with my idea of what she wanted or needed?  I would mentally grit my teeth, draw on a joint history (not uncomplicated) and my love for her and find a way through although I would feel furious at times.  I didn’t always stop myself saying and doing callous things or neglecting her.  But how would those who only knew her in this last stage of her life, and through a work relationship, cope?  What did I expect of them?  What was reasonable?

I hoped to manage relationships between care workers and my parents and between the care workers themselves (we always had a minimum of 2 at any one time because of the complex needs of my mother) by throwing as many resources as possible at the situation – decent wages and generous conditions – plenty of substantial and paid breaks away from her during working hours, long holidays, constant attention to individual worker’s needs and pressures,  flexible arrangements between the workers themselves and so on.  I am no saint. I wanted the arrangements to work.  I liked all the people involved.  I could be ‘generous’ because my parents received substantial financial support through direct payments at that time because my dad had been a farmer worker and they had no assets.  I could add to this from my professional salary.  I lived in a very large house with a big garden providing ‘space’ for workers.  It was still far from easy.  Tensions between workers would emerge which had to be sorted out.  But by having a mix of part time postgraduate students, full time directly employed workers and some agency workers coming in at peak times we managed somehow.

I look at the pictures of the ‘homes’ that always seem to accompany the reports of these institutional abuse cases and think about the financial and managerial regimes that underpin them.  The reports provide glimpses of the position of the care workers – often from marginalised groups in society, under pressure, vulnerable, untrained, unsupported and under-resourced – and I can see how the abuse happens quite easily and I find it hard to join in the general condemnation while sharing the anger at what has happened.

It seems to me that we as a society abuse these workers and when they abuse others we send them to prison. We create a ‘moral panic’ about institutional care and put these body workers at its heart.  Labour law seems totally unable to provide an adequate framework for protecting care workers and for managing these really difficult relationships.   The structural problems associated with the commodification of caring particularly in a context of ‘austerity’ are being mis framed as the individual responsibility of marginalised workers within the law. These workers’ (often physically and emotionally exhausted) culturally identified bodies are made invisible for these purposes while increasingly made subject to surveillance by managers and regulators through other forms of regulation deemed necessary to prevent the abuse which results from the means through which such care is provided.  The state punishes them for our collective lack of responsibility.

Ann Stewart, School of Law, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK 

Care needs, gay men aged 60 and over

One of my research projects is to examine how a group of 25 gay men aged 60 and over have experienced or expect to experience old age. Interviewed as part of research I did for a book that Palgrave Macmillan published in 2013 (Gay Men’s Relationships Across the Life Course) the men were recruited in Auckland, London, Manchester, Melbourne, and New York. Six of them were in their 80s, nine were in their 70s and ten were in their 60s. This project builds on work that Brian Heaphy (2009), Ann Cronin and Andrew King (2012) among others, have already done in the area of queer ageing needs. It will also expand on my own findings from an all-Australian sample of gay men (n=80) that I used in The Changing World of Gay Men (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) where I argued that I found little or no evidence to suggest that Australian gay men aged 60 and over were lonely in old age and that most seemed relatively optimistic about the prospect of growing old. What I did not examine, however, in The Changing World was the extent of their fears or concerns about life in care, which is the focus of the research I write about today.

Preliminary analysis of data from my international sample of 25 men suggests that they chiefly used two narratives when explaining what worried them about their care needs in old age. The first narrative related to that set of general fears and concerns that occupy the waking hours of many members of the general population as they age, namely fears about losing mobility or independence, having to live alone after the death of a partner, loss of sexual potency or interest, having to move into a nursing home, or the risk of dementia.

The second narrative the men drew on when explaining what worried them about old age were fears about heterosexism or homophobia. At the top of their list of worries was the heteronormativity they expected would exist in nursing homes or the homophobia of staff or other residents, either of which could have the effect of forcing some of the men back into the closet. One of the interviewees, a Sydney man aged 72 said the following about aged-care accommodation: ‘Nursing homes in Australia are often run by church organisations. Some church organisations, though not all, are not particularly welcoming to gay residents. They are not particularly understanding of the diversity of human relationships and of their needs’. A similar, related fear that men already living independently at home expressed was having to deal with care workers who were homophobic or uncooperative.

Cronin, Ann and Andrew King (2012) ‘Only Connect? Older lesbian, gay and Bisexual (LGB) social capital’ in Ageing and Society Available on CJO 2012  doi:10.1017/S0144686X12000955

Heaphy, Brian (2009) ‘The Storied, Complex Lives of Older GLBT Adults: Choice and its Limits in Older Lesbian and Gay Narratives of Relational Life’ in Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 5, 119–138.

‘Transnational families, migration and the circulation of care.’

By Loretta Baldassar & Laura Merla

Every day during his lunch break at around 1pm, Alberto, who lives in Perth, Australia, phones his 85 year old father, Angelo, who lives in Rome, Italy. Angelo, who is not in the best of health, is usually sitting at the kitchen table having his morning coffee and bread roll. “It’ll only be 6am in Italy, but Dad will always be waiting for my call,” Alberto explains. Since Alberto’s mother’s sudden and unexpected death a year ago, Alberto, an only child, has tried to manage his father’s increasing care needs from a distance. He took 6 weeks unpaid leave from work to travel to Italy to arrange the funeral for his mother and put in place care supports for his father. Both Alberto and Angelo see aged care facilities as a last resort option; they are expensive and have a social stigma that reflects badly on families. Angelo wishes to remain living in his own home for as long as he can. Moving to Australia is not an option because of Angelo’s failing health; furthermore, aged migration to Australia is costly with prohibitive requirements. Given the aged care regimes in both countries, father and son adopted the commonest solution and hired a domestic worker, Maria, to work from 9 to 5 each day, preparing lunch and dinner, doing the cleaning and shopping and taking Alberto to his medical visits. Maria has agreed to move into the spare room as a live-in carer if Angelo’s health deteriorates. A long-time family friend, Nadia, the daughter of Angelo’s old friend and neighbour, Nello, sets up a Skype every Sunday when she visits her father (who lives next door). Alberto feels this is the best way to “get a thorough update”.

Every Saturday and Sunday, at around 6am, Maria phones her 10 year old son, Diego, in the Dominican Republic. She arrived in Rome a year ago on a tourist visa. Maria planned to find work as a domestic and raise enough money to bring Diego to Italy. In the meantime, Diego lives with his grandmother Lucia, Maria’s mother. Twelve people currently live in Lucia’s crowded house, including her frail partner Arturo, two of Maria’s brothers, their partners and children, and Maria’s sister Anna’s three children. Anna is a domestic employee in the US. Maria and Anna call Lucia a few times a week to talk with and discuss their children, exchange support with their mother, and talk to other family members present at the time of their call. The two sisters are also in regular contact with their oldest sister, Teresa, who lives in Belgium with her Spanish husband and their three children, and the three women send monthly remittances to their mother. In spite of the distance, Teresa plays a central role in her extended family, and is considered by all as the head of the household that is stretched across thousands of kilometres and several countries. Teresa checks with her brothers and sisters-in-law that Arturo, who suffers from diabetes and has lost his sight, takes his medicines and eats properly, and sends emergency remittances when a specific need arises. She visits her family every year, and during these visits she works with her brothers on the renovation of the family house.

These case studies highlight the way family members from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds care for each other through a process of asymmetrical reciprocal exchange, across and despite the distance that separates them, and the way that care circulates between them. The idea that care circulates within transnational family networks is indeed central our edited book entitled ‘Transnational families, migration and the circulation of care : understanding mobility and absence in family life’ (Routledge).

With increased mobility and improvements in both travel and communication technologies, more and more people are experiencing transnational family lives. The chapters that make up this volume cover a rich array of case studies including analyses of the inequalities between transnational families who circulate care between developing nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia to wealthier nations in North America, Europe and Australia. There are also examples of intra- and extra- European, Australian and North American migration and care circulation, which involve the mobility of both the unskilled and working class as well as the skilled middle and aspirational classes.

Whether pushed or pulled out of homelands in search of safe asylum, better economic futures or improved lifestyles, increasing numbers of people are separated from their family by distance and national borders. Those family members who ‘stay behind’ or ‘stay put’ (as it were) in their place of birth or ancestral homeland, also become part of social relationships stretched across time and place, even though they might never actually relocate or even move at all. We believe a focus on the disparate trajectories of care circulation helps us to better understand mobility and absence in family life, so that we might theorise transnational families as contemporary family forms in their own right. This book highlights, in particular, how the sense of belonging in transnational families is sustained by the reciprocal, though uneven, exchange of caregiving, in the form of financial, emotional and practical support, ‘hands on’ care as well as accommodation. By doing so, this volume challenges narrow definitions of care to consider the portability of care, a fundamental topic for our contemporary lives.

Sources:

Baldassar L. & Merla L. (Eds) (2013) Transnational Families, Migration and the Circulation of Care: Understanding mobility and absence in family life. Routledge, Transnationalism Series

Baldassar L., Kilkey M., Merla L. and Wilding R. (Forthcoming) ‘Transnational Families’. Revised Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Families.

c/o Professor Loretta Baldassar

Anthropology and Sociology
The University of Western Australia (M255)
35 Stirling Highway
CRAWLEY WA 6009
Australia

Caring in Kenya, by Ann Stewart

While young men and possibly young women were laying siege to a shopping mall in Nairobi, killing young and old indiscriminately despite press reports to the contrary, I was spending the day with Maasai families experiencing care at first hand.  While they were forcing their way into this space where love and care was being bought in the same way as elsewhere in the global market place, through children’s cooking parties, coffee and tea drinking and the body work of hairdressers and cosmetic sales persons, I was sitting outside a one roomed home, made with corrugated iron sheets, drinking smoky milk tea from a pot on the open fire, with 4 generations of women from one family, the eldest 100 years old, the youngest 2 years.  The great grandmother was given her food by her grand- daughter.  She was sitting on her goat skin leaning against her hut wall eating her lunch from a bowl with a spoon.  The food had been provided by her last surviving child of 12, her youngest daughter in her 60s now living with her mother, having moved from the local ‘town’, some 8 kilometres away on a deeply pitted dirt road.  The ugali and goat meat with vegetables had been made into a stew on an open fire.  She spooned out all the liquid on to the earth in front of her because she wanted it dry.  Her daughter and grand- daughter looked on while she did this, ensuring that the food did not tip out.  When we had arrived in the sort of SUV which is ubiquitous in ‘developing’ world contexts with her grand- daughter and two great grand-daughters, she had come out to greet them but immediately went back inside the hut and come out again carrying all her belongings in a cloth bundle, secured on her head and back, which was almost her size, and her long stick.  She was intent on getting back to the town to visit her grand-daughter.  She was persuaded gently to put the bundle down and to have her food and to share tea and talk.   She was not going to be able to go back with us.  She and her widowed daughter had moved here because a grandson had taken responsibility for them.  Sons are important.  They provide this economic protection although widowed women are socially powerful within families.    We debated how we would leave when the time came.  The answer was for the men in the party to drive off in the vehicle and wait further off and for the women to stay behind.  Then at a moment when we hoped she was distracted we ran towards the vehicle.  She was not fooled and proceeded to follow us with remarkable swiftness for her age.  We clambered in and left her with her daughter to return to their home.

We were there because my Kenyan research student had studied the interaction between gender and ethnicity in matters relating to land in 3 different communities in Kenya.  The grand daughter was the sister of her interpreter for the Maasai field work.  Agnes had spent time much time and many experiences with this group of women who in Maasai terms are a wealthy and influential family, owning much land.  She was paying a visit to reminisce and to catch up on events.  I was sharing this visit as her teacher.  I also had a ‘husband’ my male partner with me.  Agnes had her husband and we had two male drivers, one for the Maasai area, an influential young man who had assisted Agnes with her fieldwork in this area, and a driver whom Agnes had used generally for all her fieldwork who drove for her family.  Undertaking fieldwork in rural Kenya is not easy.  It involves many challenges which I was only now learning about as we met up with those who had been involved.  Everyone was enjoying the stories. The interpreter’s sister, who set up many of the interviews, had been 8 months pregnant at one stage.  Her mother made it clear that Agnes must be prepared to attend the birth if this should occur on one trip which involved very bumpy terrain.   On one occasion the interpreter had had to climb a tree to try to get a mobile signal to enable someone to come and tow the vehicle out of the ditch.   The Maasai driver had been able to clear the road of a large herd of goats while the Kisii driver had not.  When the great grand- mother had been interviewed she had wanted Agnes to write down her entitlement to land on a piece of paper.  She still had this piece of paper.

I am deeply uneasy about the potential voyeurism involved in this type of narrative but it was not that sort of day.  The men in the party wandered off somewhere and the women chatted to each other lined up along the hut wall for a number of hours.  They spoke Swahili and the Maasai language and English when necessary.  I was made to feel completely welcome but not special.  I shared photos from my newly bought flash smart phone of my two small grandchildren.  They were struck by their very blue eyes.

A few days before I had delivered a public lecture entitled ‘caring about care; recognising and regulating body work in a global market’ at the British Institute in Eastern Africa.  It was based upon my book Gender, Law and Justice in a Global Market (CUP 2011).  As part of the presentation I had shown some photos of the elderly in institutional settings in the UK: older women lined up against walls in wheel chairs, heads down.  I had shown pictures of migrant care workers tending to these elderly frail people.  In the discussion which followed the presentation, we had had a very interesting discussion of the tensions and dilemmas that urban middle class/professional women face in coping with paid work and caring responsibilities in urban Nairobi where use of paid assistance in the home – domestic workers, nannies, care workers generally –are the norm.  We discussed the consequences of privatising social responsibilities with no welfare state safety net  – individual women feel responsible for the lot of other women who have left children and other family members behind to undertake these roles.  The women are not paid enough to replace their care and they may be far from their own homes in the informal settlements in Nairobi.  The Kenyan state has provided some legal protections and minimum wage requirements.  But how are these to be met by individual women with no support from the state?  Women are pitted against each other.

I looked after my mother and father in our home for the last two years of their lives.  My mum was by then very frail and needed constant care.  They both died aged over 90 in our home.  I recognised the care that the women around me were giving on Saturday.  I recognised its quality.  I recognised the power relationships, the negotiations, the vulnerabilities, the love.  I saw the dignity and worth of this very elderly woman’s life – her clean clothes, her neat hair, her alertness, her sense of being part of this community, her frustration at not being able to out run us to the vehicle.

Ann Stewart

School of Law University of Warwick

 

Key authorship on older LGB carers

Brotman, Shari, et al (2007) ‘Coming out to care: Caregivers of gay and lesbian seniors in Canada’, The Gerontologist, 47(4), pp. 490–503.

Conaghan Joanne and Grabham, Emily (2007) ‘Sexuality and the Citizen Carer’ Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 58: 325-341

Concannon, Liam (2009) ‘Developing Inclusive Health and Social Care Policies for Older LGB Citizens’, British Journal of Social Work, 39: 403-417.

Corden, Anne and Hirst , Michael (2011) ‘Partner care at the end-of-life : identity, language and characteristics’, Ageing & Society, 31:  217–242.

Cronin, Ann, et al (2011) ‘Categories and their consequences: Understanding and supporting the caring relationships of older lesbian, gay and bisexual people’, International Social Work 54(3): 421-435

Fenge, Lee-Ann, and Hicks, Christina (2011). “Hidden lives: the importance of recognising the needs and experiences of older lesbians and gay men within healthcare practice.” Diversity in Health and Care 8(3): 147-154.

Hughes, Mark, and Kentlyn, Sue (2011. “Older LGBT people’s care networks and communities of practice: A brief note.” International Social Work 54(3): 436-444.

Manthorpe, Jill and Price, Liz (2005) ‘Lesbian Carers: Personal Issues and Policy Responses’, Social Policy & Society 5(1): 15–26

Munro and Karen-Leigh Edward (2010) ‘The Burden of Care of Gay Male Carers Caring for Men Living With HIV/AIDS’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 4(4) 287-296

Munro and Karen-Leigh Edward (2010) ‘The Burden of Care of Gay Male Carers Caring for Men Living With HIV/AIDS’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 4(4) 287-296

Newman, Roger (2005). “Partners in care – Being equally different: lesbian and gay carers.” Psychiatric Bulletin 29(7): 266-267.

Price, Elizabeth (2008) ‘Pride or Prejudice? Gay men, lesbians and dementia’, British Journal of Social Work, 38: 1337-1352.

Price, Elizabeth. “Caring for mum and dad: lesbian women negotiating family and navigating care.” British Journal of Social Work 41.7 (2011): 1288-1303.

Roseneil, Sasha (2004) ‘Why we should Care about Friends: An Argument for Queering the Care Imaginary in Social Policy’, Social Policy & Society 3(4): 409–419

Rosenfeld, Dana, Bartlam, Bernadette and Smith, Ruth (2012) ‘Out of the Closet and Into the Trenches: Gay Male Baby Boomers, Aging, and HIV/AIDS’, The Gerontologist  Special Issue: Baby Boomers, Advance access 31st January 2012, doi:10.1093/geront/gnr138, 0(0):1–9.

Ward, Richard, et al (2005) A kiss is still a kiss? The construction of sexuality in dementia care. Dementia: the International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 4 (1): 49–72.

Willis, Paul, Ward, Nickie and Fish, Julie (2011) ‘Searching for LGBT Carers: Mapping a Research Agenda in Social Work and Social Care’, British Journal of Social Work, 41: 1304–1320

‘Older carers: invisible but invaluable’ by Antony Smith

  • There are 2.8 million people aged 50 and over providing unpaid care in the UK, including 5% of people aged 85 and over.
  • A quarter of all carers aged 75 and over provide 50 or more hours of informal care each week.
  • Carers save the UK economy an estimated £87 billion a year.

At Age UK we hear from many people in later life who are caring for a spouse, partner, relative or friend. Although many find caring rewarding and an expression of their relationship, carers also tell us that they feel invisible and undervalued. Many are stressed and exhausted. Here is an excerpt from one of those personal stories.

Jenny and James

“James and myself were both looking forward to spending our retirement together, but four months after I retired, James became ill and was diagnosed with memory loss caused by depression. Five months later he became ill again, almost overnight, and was hospitalised. He was 71.

“Eventually I was told, because James had Lewy Body dementia, I’d never be able to look after him and that he had to go into residential care. With a nursing background, I thought I could care for James at our home and believed this would be better for his mental wellbeing, but no one listened.

“Once a social worker was assigned to our case, he said he would try and enable a care package where James could live at home with me. However once our financial assessment was done, and we weren’t eligible for funding support, we were left to get on with things ourselves. I set about arranging a care package, but it was a complicated task to do with no guidance. Luckily, I’m able to use the internet, but I dread to think how I would have sorted anything without it.

“After nearly three months in hospital, James finally came home in Feb 2011.

“Being a carer is exhausting – from the moment James wakes up he needs help with everything from moving and getting dressed to washing and going to the toilet. When I don’t have night cover I’m up about four times a night and can’t sleep during the day as James needs someone with him all the time. Because we hired support workers independently we have the same ones nearly every time. I think that’s really beneficial to James, as changing faces can be particularly disorientating for someone with dementia and they perform very personal tasks.

“I take James to a day centre twice a week and this is welcome relief for me. Unfortunately we’ve just been informed that because of local authority funding cuts the centre will close next year. There are about 20 of us who use the centre, and James really enjoys his time there.

“Every six weeks I also put James in respite care for a week, to give me a complete break. Unfortunately on his most recent trip when I went to collect him he had no shoes on, his glasses were missing and he was wearing someone else’s clothes. I could tell he was frightened and he had bruises on his body. When I got him home I discovered he’d lost 8lbs in seven days. I’ve made a formal complaint and am waiting to discover the outcome, but things like that shouldn’t be acceptable and obviously I haven’t felt like I could put him in that respite home since.

“I feel I have managed to come to terms with my feelings of loss and bereavement concerning James, which were overwhelming at the start, and I just have to get on with things. I try not to think about the future. James is getting weaker, and I’m getting older so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to manage and I don’t know what will happen when our money runs out.”

Age UK Is calling for more support for older carers – from government, local authorities and health professionals – such as a Carer’s Allowance for pensioners, a choice of appropriate services and regular carers’ health checks. You can find out more about our work to highlight the support older carers need, as well as the recognition they richly deserve, on Age UK’s website.

Antony Smith is Development Officer for Equalities and Human Rights at Age UK Antony.Smith@ageuk.org.uk