The pandemic has given fresh visibility to a long-term problemby Jennifer Dixon / November 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
Care is often undervalued, relying as it does mainly on female labour and squeezed into the spaces not filled by work. Or else it is handed over to the state to provide in commoditised “packages.” But giving and receiving care are at the core of what it is to be human.
This paradox is explored vividly by former Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting, who spent five years travelling the country speaking to families and staff in the NHS and care sector. In Labours of Love, she collects personal testimony, weaving in her own experiences in caring for her children and elderly relatives. The result is vital and timely.
The facts speak for themselves: the sheer numbers of people needing care, especially at the beginning and towards the end of life, present a huge policy challenge. There is a collision of trends: higher needs for care in the population, an increasing proportion of women in work, and a state scrimping on social care. But underneath all this there is the deeper “cultural orphaning of care as a vital human activity.” Social care providers are reaching a crunch, with low-paid care staff approaching 50 per cent of the overall number, while funding for home care and day centres is cut and childcare support remains meagre. And, of course, successive governments have been ducking social care reform.
The personal testimony from carers here brings the reader up short. “The clients didn’t know me, and I was coming to their house to wake them up. There was no time for eye contact… Luxury was a 30-minute visit.” And “a lot of people literally pleaded with me to stay for a moment, just to have a cup of tea.” Despite all the problems, though, Bunting witnesses the compassion and “constant donation” of care. The pandemic has given fresh visibility to this, and may prompt change. If not, more of us will be fated to experience this broken system at first hand.
Labours of Love: The Crisis of Care by Madeleine Bunting (Granta, £20)