in 2016 I updated my then company, Just Jones &, website. In 2015 we had hoped to undertake a big tour.
We didn’t because I took time out. I took time out to help nurse a family member through her final illness. It was important to do this. I’m proud that as a family we opted to manage a hospice-at-home, so impressed with all the NHS and hospice support we got to pull it off. It was a big chapter in our lives, I think.
To take that time meant I chose not to make the tour happen and in the bragathon list of achievements which most theatre companies need to appear viable, 2015 looks a bit lightweight artistically. And yet, for me, it was one of the busiest and most productive years I have known.
I heard myself say to a colleague “I didn’t do anything last year” She kindly pointed out that in fact I had been pretty busy.*
Of course, now I realise that one of the reasons I describe that time as inactive to colleagues is because there was no financial value attached to it. I would not have wanted that and I was lucky to have a family who could support me in that choice but equally I haven’t any way of having that time accounted for in terms of pensions or NI or anything that the state counts as productive. By taking on this to me creative and essential role, I not only saved the state their precious money but I was also discounted by the state.
So how do we talk about and how do we value caring? I want to honour that time and – yes – give myself credit for it, value it, and I don’t want to be saying “poor me”.
And yet I do feel that society isn’t on my side – as if somehow caring for a family is somehow less worth than being at work, even if work is making plays. If that time had been maternity leave, I would have been letting you know, I would have been rewarded by the state (albeit not very well) and I’d be showing you all a baby now.
It wasn’t maternity leave, it was caring leave, and it wasn’t leave – because I don’t think that ever exists for freelancers- it was time which I was able to give and wanted to give. But professionally speaking and in terms of my future prospects, it looks like time of no value. This cannot be right.
My challenge is: I want to explain why there’s a gap in what my company was doing last year. I want to understand why I feel uncomfortable with the language available. Was I a carer? I didn’t feel comfortable with that badge at the time. I didn’t take state aid for that role – that didn’t seem right either. I’m not sure whether I would have been able to. What is that – a social and professional stigma?
One of our 6 (note it’s now 7 as of 2018 we added Equal Health for which I am Spokesperson) core objectives is to acknowledge and value parenting and caring. We want the (mostly) women who still do most of this work not to be discounted during their working life and then again during retirement. I didn’t pause for a moment to consider these things when I decided to be a carer.
I wanted to be there at the end of a life just as you would for a child at the beginning of one.
Caring for our older population is a big topic and has a massive impact on women of my generation. It is a conversation we are not having. (In 2020 It’s a conversation we are having in extremis but one I’m worried we will forget as soon as we can).
The political always starts with the personal, so I’m putting it out there.
How are we going to talk about caring? With embarrassment, with financial anxiety or with pride?
Imagine the difference it would make to professional carers to be paid a living wage, imagine the difference it would make to family carers not to have to feel guilty about taking time away from work. What would it be like to be a society that understands the value of family life and was prepared to pay its real costs?
Now in 2020 carers need financial and physical protection. They need it urgently now and they will need it in years to come. And everyone needs to understand that caring as a profession is a skilled role. Worthy of respect and reward.
And invisible family carers whether they do it by choice or compulsion are not financially unproductive. They provide immense support to our society and their work must be recognised.
Rebecca Manson Jones is standing as candidate for the GLA elections in 2021 representing the Women’s Equality Party.