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Social Care Is In Crisis: We Need A National Care Service

Our social care system is in crisis and women are bearing the brunt.

This article was originally in The Big Issue.

Our social care system is in crisis and women are bearing the brunt. Women are the majority of the  1.5 million older and disabled people who are currently not receiving the social care they need. Around one in seven older people currently have unmet care needs.

Women are also the majority (83%)  of the 840,000 overstretched and under paid care workers and home carers, nearly a quarter of whom are on zero hours contracts. Women like Amanda* and Amy* who are members of the National Association of Care & Support Workers (NACAS) which works with carers to campaign for greater recognition and respect for care workers.

Amanda describes how lack of funding means carers end up working for nothing in order to make sure people get the care they need: ‘So much is expected of you, but it all comes down to funding. I see people being discharged from hospital too early with insufficient care packages in place. This is then made worse when the NHS then withdraws what little funding they are giving to clients. We end up caring for vulnerable people in our own unpaid time as we don’t want them to be left with insufficient care. It is shocking what is expected of carers and what for, a minimum wage paid position.’

No surprisingly this leads to stress for both carers and cared for as Amy explains: ‘It is very long, unsocial hours, with no option as to whether you agree to overtime or not. Shifts are changed at short notice and often these changes are not beneficial to clients or the staff. This leads to stress for both myself and the client. There is a serious lack of supervision and support for carers and I often feel exhausted, stressed and unable to take part in family life’

And its not just workers employed in the care sector who are hit by the crisis in care: women also make up the majority of unpaid carers who have to fill the gap in local care services. Carers UK estimate there are at least 6.6 million carers and possibly as many as 8.8 million carers in the UK in 2019. Over a third of unpaid carers have given up work to care and a further 16% have had to reduce their hours. This in turn can lead to poverty as women earn less and are less able to save for their old age.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can do things differently.

At the next election the Women’s Budget Group is calling on all parties to commit to creating a national care service. This would not only benefit people needing care, it would also benefit the economy by creating new jobs and enabling family carers to take jobs or increase their level of employment. We have calculated that an investment of 2% of GDP in care would create twice as many jobs as the same money invested in construction projects. Both Labour and the Conservatives have made commitments to invest in infrastructure at this election. If this investment included social infrastructure (care, health and education) as well as physical infrastructure (roads, rail and the buildings these services take place in), this could solve the crisis in care as well as boosting the economy.

Recognising spending on care as an investment in infrastructure means thinking about the economy in a different way. The current crisis in social care is a wider reflection of how our current economic system has failed to understand that unpaid work like care is as a fundamental part of the economy as paid work.

The Women’s Budget Group Commission on a Gender- Equal Economy is working to develop alternative economic policies that put care and well-being of people and planet at its centre. And tackling the care crisis will be a key part of our recommendations when we report next year.

For the sake of carers such as Amanda and Amy and the millions like them, lets hope that this election marks the point when politicians take action to solve it.

*Names have been changed

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