The global caring crisis

‘Care in the UK is now intimately connected with austerity policies,’ according to Beverley Skeggs, Professor of Sociology and former Academic Director of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme based at the London School of Economics. She was one of three panelists taking part in a live-streamed seminar, ‘Care Economies: A conversation about Cuba, equity and the future’. Organised by the Atlantic Institute in partnership with Cuba Platform, participants also included Saida Ali, Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity, and Professor Daybel Pañellas, from the University of Havana. They discussed care systems in different economies across the world, questioning why domestic work carried out chiefly by women and girls is largely underpaid and undervalued.

Professor Skeggs authored the influential study Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable (1997), a longitudinal ethnography of subjectivity across the lives of women as they move from 'caring courses' to work and family. ‘Caring is one way in which women gain value and gain a sense of satisfaction,’ she said. ‘Yet, care has never factored into economic policy. How is it that it is just not counted?’

She spoke of her personal experiences of the care system, relating how her sick, frail mother went into a care home when her needs became too great to be looked after at home. ‘She fulfilled all the criteria for receiving lots of support but there was none available. That was 2016-17. Now there are surveys that show there are several major care deserts in Britain,’ said Professor Skeggs. Despite spending nearly £1,000 a week for her mother’s care, she died soon after she had been admitted. The professor believes her mother received inadequate care, not being properly assisted with feeding or going to the toilet.  

Saida Ali’s research shows that many women from the global south head for richer countries like the Gulf region or the UK and US to find work. This type of care work can be ‘linked to the history of slavery,’ she said. ‘Women of colour are doing work that is low valued and low paid.’

She explained how large numbers of care-givers from east Africa who went to the Gulf region were bound by law to work for their employer for two years. ‘There is connecting door from the Gulf to the UK. It is a result of running away,’ said Ali. Rich people from certain countries find it relatively easy to obtain visas for themselves and their domestic workers to visit the UK or US for their holidays or to invest, she explained. Her research suggests that some of these women living in bad conditions have taken the opportunity to escape while in the UK..

Professor Daybel Pañellas, from the University of Havana, provided a different perspective – the care system in Cuba. ’I don’t want people to feel that Cuba is paradise…[but] something very important is the framework of the government. There is a settlement that we care. I think that was the goal of the revolution; that was the dream of Fidel [Castro] for a long time. And generations of Cubans really believe in that dream. There are different examples and particular policies: internationalism was one… but the basic one was we need to help those who need it.’

Watch a video of the discussion on 23 Jan 2020, at Rhodes House, Oxford, UK.

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