Why I get angry when Caring is described as unskilled

On Thursday night I got to speak to activists from the Women’s Equality Party. Yes, I was talking to the converted but we all need some reassurance some times that we’re not shouting into the wind. And sometimes, we need to be reminded by our own team that what we’re doing matters and how it matters on a human level.

Here’s something approaching what was said. I always improvise a bit and forgot to record. Audio track will follow.

“Hallo 

My name is Rebecca Manson Jones. I’m the Equality in Health Spokesperson and one of the Women’s Equality Party candidates in the Greater London Assembly elections in May 2021. 

About this time 6 years ago, perhaps this evening I don’t quite remember, I received an email from a friend and colleague, Stella Duffy, inviting me to sign up for a women’s something or other. … At the time I was caring for my Mother who was dying… the exact thought I had without fully reading even the subject line was “ oh go away” – or words to that effect –” with your playwriting thing fundraising, womenny thing…” 

 I love Stella but I was a carer, I was busy, I was stressed and I was broke. I loved caring for my Mother, we got the time we had missed, I was good at it and I would not have missed it for the world. 

I did open the email later and it was an invitation to get involved in the Women’s Equality Party and I wrote back on Facebook saying I’m here, I’m coming  – save me a place. So, as well as joining our call to support unpaid carers, tonight I’m asking you to sign up as a digital organiser, because IT TOTALLY WORKS. I’m in politics because somebody asked me to be. 

The other reason I’m here now, and especially pleased to be speaking at this event, is because it was the professional carers who showed me their skill, integrity and dedication at first hand. A good carer is multi-tasking, empathetic, flexible, responsive, creative and knows about ageing and conditions. I hadn’t known any of that. I thought like most people do that when you need care, the state steps like it does with the NHS. But none of that is true. It was this experience, being with paid carers that taught me so much about inequality.

And I get furious about how we as a country, as a society and governments of all complexions treat carers and caring as if it’s one of the worst and least skilled ways to spend your time. 

Carers in the Uk are mostly women, but also I have worked with some very skilled male carers, proving if proof is needed that Caring should not be gendered. 

But it has been gendered and because it’s seen as low status, low skill, intrinsically allied to women, it is disrespected, misunderstood and devalued by men and women. We all have our work to do to fix that cultural gendered bias. Which lands us up in a situation where Carers Allowance is the lowest of the low at £67.25 a week.  Caring has been turned into a women’s problem, to manage and to finance ourselves.

Before the pandemic, this government actually said that the shortfall in professional carers that Brexit would cause, must be picked up by women. And during the pandemic, the Government has on one hand been slow to acknowledge carers and has entirely overlooked unpaid care in any of their emergency measures. 

Unpaid carers during the pandemic have grown in numbers by thousands and many more will be in this position due to Covid. Carers have also had to increase the hours they support family members because of cuts and closures to services.  Carers often support their family member on top of having to work because they can’t afford to miss work. 

In my case I was self-employed when I was with my Mother and the damage that year had on my immediate income was one thing. I entirely failed to factor in the loss of onward opportunities & income which had a ripple effect for about two years after she died.  But I had family support, I had help, I had respite.

Carers now have had very little support or rest to attend to themselves, earn a living, get a break., especially since Christmas. Today at work I’ve been planning a new arts dementia project which is about giving carers respite for a few a minutes in a day, remotely. In the friendly calls we do, we have been told again and again about how necessary this is. 

So: Rishi Sunak hasn’t done anything for the unpaid carer so far, except make their already complicated lives even tougher. But it’s not too late for him. 

Here’s what we want as emergency measures, 

£20 uplift in Carers Allowance backdated to the uplift of £20 on Universal Credit.  And WE are calling for the prioritisation of reinstating and opening services like day centres which provide respite and other support to people living with long term conditions and their carers. 

Caring for my mother and father was an absolute priceless experience in my life. And I really want to see the UK embracing care as a normal part of family and working life like we nearly do with parental leave. 

But it comes at a cost and we cannot expect women to keep paying for it financially and with their health. “

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