The Value of Caring, and Caring about Value

I was stunned recently by this quote by Amy Hall in The New Internationalist:

“A mammoth 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work is carried out by women and girls each day – equivalent to 1.5 billion people working eight hours a day, without pay. It is estimated that women’s unpaid care work adds $10.8 trillion of value to the economy, while most of the financial benefit is felt by those who are already the wealthiest.

Still, public spending on care is treated as a cost rather than an investment…”

‘The Hidden Debt of Care’ by Amy Hall (in The New Internationalist magazine, Nov/Dec 2020)

This is not a surprise to me. But it’s the scale of it. Even though these figures must be estimated, they are almost certainly under estimated, given the way we have systematically ignored the contribution of women and racialized people in this way to the economy for generations.

There are currently something like 7.8 billion people in the whole world. So this is equivalent to a quarter of the world’s entire population working full time and getting no money for it at all.

A couple of friends shared things on social media today that resonated with this. One is a lady who is struggling in lockdown to care for and educate her youngest children (who both have significant special needs) at home. she shared a post from Adoption UK saying,

“Working, parenting and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time.

It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can.”

Emily W King PhD for Adoption UK

Another was from a man pointing out the obscene discrepancy between how much he was ever paid as a professional musician with extremely high qualifications and experience and the hourly rate charged by a solicitor he came across recently. This led to a whole thread considering the injustice of the situation we are now in regarding how we value and pay one another.

I find it really odd how we value (or don’t value) one another, and what we pay one another, and ever more so, having become self employed this time last year. It seems to me there is precious little connection between what is really valuable to human life and to the life of our planet and what we pay people for their work. For example, cleaners and refuse collectors perform some of the most vitally important work. They are the ones we still need to work during the pandemic lockdowns. And yet, what do we pay them?

When I was younger, I used to think music was just a luxury for those who could afford it. I studied music myself and have always loved it, but didn’t pursue it beyond a certain level partly due to limited ability, but partly also out of a misplaced sense that I ought to be doing something more “worthy” to somehow help to address the wealth and poverty gap. Now, with a bit of life experience, I’ve come to realise that music, comedy, drama, art, film… all these things are what enable all kinds of people to survive and thrive, particularly when they’re up against it in terms of poverty or many other adversities.

It’s tricky to imagine how you could work out the value of music. It is in fact priceless, I now realise. But it would be nice if we paid people who make music and teach it something realistic. And if we made some kind of provision for them in these times when their livelihoods have mostly been decimated.

I was shocked when I went through cancer treatment by the amount of unpaid overtime the nurses (who were almost entirely female) were routinely doing. They thought it was what people expected of them, working in a caring context. I don’t expect that.

Around the same time, the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a plan to recruit a load more doctors to reduce waiting times in hospitals. My own experience made it absolutely clear to me that, practically speaking, there was no point in recruiting more doctors if you didn’t also recruit a load more support staff and extra equipment and building space. What good is a doctor when you’re needing hundreds of blood samples to be processed in a lab, in order for the doctor to be able to diagnose what is wrong and treat the patient appropriately?

Then there’s all the people who can’t work. Who are nonetheless just as valuable as those who can. How can we honour and respect one another appropriately in how we share our money? Having a universal basic income could be one way, perhaps?

Another friend of mine pays her cleaner the same rate that she herself earns. And another friend is beginning to invite people to pay her on that basis, too.

I recently bought a book online on a “pay what you think it’s worth” basis. The author wrote inspiringly about the gift economy and finding a better and more ecologically sustainable way to enable one another to offer our gifts to the world.

I am currently the grateful recipient of several people’s regular financial gifts, which are enabling me to focus on what I think is most important at the moment and grow my coaching, writing and other work on sharing spiritual practices and ideas. These could be a few ideas of how to grow a better money system, perhaps…?

While we experiment with these and other ways of sharing resources and money more equitably, all the women and girls out there and all the racialized people, working their backs off in low or unpaid roles, I salute you. As a human race (we are all in the same race after all), we wouldn’t survive without you and the work you do. Your work is precious and so are you. May you find or be given everything you need and more.

One thought on “The Value of Caring, and Caring about Value

  1. One of the candidates for the Democratic nomination in November’s US general election was in favor of Universal Basic Income. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it since, though Carolyn mentioned reading something that persuaded her. Unemployment benefit fraud has caused more news that I’ve noticed recently. Imagine eliminating most of that at a stroke. Imagine not having that system buried under unprecedented demand because it was operating at universal scale all the time. So much potential political capital being just left on the table.

    Like

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