By Julian Siravo

January 2020

oldcare2

We don’t have a crisis of ageing. We have a crisis of care. It’s true, our societies are getting older. But our inability to face this change is rooted in the – overwhelmingly patriarchal and misogynistic – ways we have ignored and disregarded those who care for us and their indispensable work. The fact that so much eldercare is carried out for free by female family members means it is often not even perceived as work. This cultural standard in turn penalizes paid care-workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and low wages.

 

The demographic shift underway is an opportunity to address these inequalities. We can make care high-value as a profession as well as highly valued when performed at home within the community.

 

We must begin with the recognition that the conditions in which waged care-workers operate is inextricable from that of friends and particularly family members providing care. Addressing the invisibility, isolation and lack of support informal carers experience, is essential to building a high value care-sector. Unpaid care-workers need wages, visibility, training and support infrastructure.

 

The UK is traditionally committed to a ‘family care first’ model, premised on a female part-time worker/carer, sharing responsibilities with the state and rationed access to professional long-term care. The UK is home to 7 million unpaid, or informal, carers.[1] Almost five million of them are women. There is a cruel irony here: the failure to recognize informal carers as workers, penalizes them in their later life as receivers of funded care themselves; unpaid care-work undermines or outright excludes the possibility of full-time waged work, on which so many pension schemes are based.

 

The first step towards a fair recognition of carers as workers is a wage. A full wage – which is different from an allowance. 53% of those receiving Carer’s Allowance[2] report “struggling to make ends meet, and 90% of carers don’t know what might happen to the practical support they receive in the future or worry that it might be reduced.”[3] While a wage is awarded to individuals, allowances are closely tied to the disability benefits of the person receiving care, establishing an uncomfortable and unnecessary relation of dependency.

 

Today there is a growing support for similar forms of decommodified income. Replacing allowances and indeed pensions with a universal social wage, a basic income would not only give these workers autonomy, it would represent a recognition of the reciprocal nature of caring relations. This was part of the rationale behind the Progressive Economy Forum’s basic income report from last year.

 

The important point to make here is that a basic income provided to all does not account specifically for the actual caring tasks that are carried out by its recipients; herein lies its efficacy and its decommodifying nature. By providing a social wage that generally accepts and pays for the vast amount of care that goes on, a basic income differs from the disciplining and monitored wage relation whilst providing material support all the same.

Beyond Financial Support

There are aspects of non professional carers that a wage alone cannot fix however. The confinement of most of this work to the domestic sphere has made these workers invisible and isolated. Almost all of those caring for someone at home reported feeling lonely and isolated (81 – 86% amongst those doing 50 hours or more per week).[4]

 

We must go beyond rethinking remuneration: making this a valued form of work will require giving carers visibility, training and education, as well as opportunities to meet and organise.

 

Our strategy for LTCCs proposes the establishment of a space – outside of the home and in the community – built around the overlapping needs of different kinds of care-workers and care-receivers. This cross-sectional approach uses services, amenities and social spaces as aggregators for the atomised subjects of caring relations.

 

Giving family and unpaid carers access to spaces designed for care professionals aims at both of providing an infrastructural ‘supplement’ to the forms of welfare currently in place, and that of creating a conduit into paid and increasingly valued forms employment. This is not only achieved with training and certification programs: the range of skills and experience of non-professional family care-workers is also likely to expand with the proposed enhancement of democratic and community-based forms of care, which can develop mediation, discussion and coordination capacities.

 

A survey conducted by Carers UK in 2017 40% of respondents hadn’t had a day off from caring in over a year. LTCCs combine free amenities thought for older people (physical activity, library/reading room, free coffee) with social spaces for care-workers and members of the community, from kitchens to lounges. The aim is to create a domestic (and decommodified) environment away from home. One that – unlike home – allows for exchange, the sharing of responsibilities, the chance to take a break.

From family care to community care

LTCCs can offer the opportunity to meet, discuss and organise mutual support between informal carers; in this way they can become the foundation for a new way to organise and deliver care.

 

In our LTCC concept, social spaces and amenities are complemented by spaces for meetings, workshops and roundtables. These intend to become the home of evolving, innovative practices of local, cooperative, community care. Informal carers could take the lead in building structures and networks in their communities, developing their capabilities and roles outside of work.

 

By 2030, the number of carers will increase by 3.4 million (around 60%).[5] The establishment of a fair and safe way to care for each other requires a shift away from familism and domestic isolation – its unaccountability and unfair treatment of women – towards a common sphere of care and well-being which is based on solidarity.

Endnotes

Julian leads the Autonomy_Urban research stream. In his own work Julian has explored automated construction, post-familial domesticity and socialized care-work. His research for Autonomy spans from aging populations and the future of care, to food and logistics.

julian@autonomy.work