Monday, 28 March 2011

Who Will Care for Women?

Here we are in 2011: the Government has announced this year’s budget, councils are tightening their squeeze on public services, and it would seem older people will continue to lose out. But what about the progress being made by the Commission on the Funding of Care and Support? This Commission is looking into the long term funding of social care and the responses to its work are a mix of fear, hope and righteous indignation. Across the charity sector there is speculation as to its great power to create change or the possibility that it will be Dead On Arrival much like the previous efforts to sort out a coherent system. But there is a deafening silence on one topic.

Regardless of the system that is created - compulsory partnership or voluntary insurance scheme - it will fail if it does not account for women. Especially older women who could stand to gain in this system but, if forgotten, will again be relegated to the status of second class citizens as has happened in pensions. This country’s Government has long ignored the unpaid caring contributions made by women and the Commission’s Call for Evidence continues this trend by never outright mentioning gendered variations in caring.

This is no small point. Women make up the majority of people aged over 65 at 129 women to every 100 men. Women of all ages are the bulk of unpaid carers for children, the disabled and older people. They also are disproportionately represented in social care work, a notoriously poorly remunerated field. Women are, quite literally, the majority of inputs to and outputs from the social care economy that has been undervalued and devalued.

Let us not forget that women are still well behind men in terms of cumulative life time earnings because of time taken out to care, the gender pay gap, and over-representation in low paid, flexible and part-time work. This is not changing. If women struggle to accumulate pensions at a par with men, even the most sophisticated of partnership systems based on compulsory top-ups by the public will not account for a life time’s worth of low wages and time out of work. If social care is an area predominantly made up of one gender, where are the indications that economic modeling takes into account women’s working patterns and that their needs will be supported in this new world?

The ‘Sandwich Generation’ (the increasing amount of women who are caring for young children and parents at the same time) may be left feeling a triple burden as men continue to have higher earnings, higher pensions savings, and now greater social care assurances while women still bear the bulk of caring responsibilities. What will happen to women if the largest ever inquiry into economic reform of social care forgets to include women?

Posted by Lili Hoag, Senior Policy and Communications Officer

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