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.