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.

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