Let’s make International Women’s Day 2023 an opportunity to truly recognise and value care.
Is caring ‘women’s work’? The short answer to this question is no, of course. 3 in 5 of us will be an unpaid carer at some point in our lives. We know that many men care for family members or friends.
But when we look at the data from the 2021 Census, the gender split in relation to unpaid care has largely stayed the same since 2011, with more women providing unpaid care. In England and Wales, 59% of unpaid carers are women and 41% are men. Women aged 55-59 are providing the most unpaid care, 1 in 5 are carers.
When it comes to the social care workforce, it is even more female dominated: 82% female and 18% male (Skills for Care, 2022). A significant number of women will be providing both unpaid and paid care – it is estimated that 1 in 3 of the NHS workforce are unpaid carers, for example. Some women will have additional childcare responsibilities, for their children or grandchildren, or will be caring for more than one person.
Whether it comes to unpaid or paid care, we know that it is still women who do the lion’s share of this work.
There is clear evidence that unpaid and paid care is valuable to the lives of the people who receive it. It also has a significant economic value. Adult social care contributes £50.3 billion to the UK economy (Skills for Care 2022) and unpaid carers contribute £57 billion per year (ONS 2017).
Today is International Women’s Day. An opportunity to recognise and celebrate the contribute of women and focus on gender equality. I despair that, as a society, we are still a long way away from recognising and valuing care as we should. And, if we don’t fully recognise and value caring, we will never do enough to support those who do it, whether in a paid or unpaid capacity.
At Carers Leeds we believe that no-one should provide unpaid care at the expense of their own health, finances, or relationships. But we know many women do. Unpaid care is one of the driving forces of gender inequality in the workplace. On measures of quality of life and wellbeing unpaid carers routinely score lower than the national average. Unpaid carers are more likely to feel lonely. Over the past 15 years poverty rates for unpaid carers have remained stubbornly higher than for those who don’t provide unpaid care. All this disproportionately effects women.
There are things we can do to change this. Flexible working by default and a legal entitlement to carers leave would enable more unpaid carers remain in employment. Paying care workers a wage commensurate with the skilled emotional and physical labour they provide. Increase Carers Allowance and consider more radical policies for how best to financially recompense unpaid carers for what they do. Ensure that the health and care workforce understand, and act upon, the legal right to recognition and support for unpaid carers, as set out in the Care Act 2014. Local Carers Centres, like Carers Leeds can also provide the information, advice and support that unpaid carers need.
We must stop accepting caring as just something that women ‘do’ and give care proper respect and recognition. The combined impact of unpaid and paid care on our society and economy is enormous. It is about time we truly noticed before more women care at a personal cost to themselves.