Time to Care
Taking care of each other isn’t a choice, it’s a human need.
Millions of us, across the UK and globally, provide paid and unpaid care that is vital for the wellbeing of our families, and for societies and economies to function.
People who are parents and guardians of children, social care and childcare workers, and unpaid carers for disabled, ill and elderly people give an incredible amount of care with little recognition or reward.
But it doesn't have to be this way. It's time to care and push for better choices that recognise the true value that care brings to all of our lives.
Why is paid and unpaid care an issue?
Lack of recognition means there's not enough practical and financial support for unpaid carers and parents. It means low pay and poor working conditions for care workers. It means over-stretched and under-funded childcare and adult care services.
Carers, and those needing care, are left to pay the highest price. Many experience deep financial hardship and poverty, as well as great physical and emotional stress.
Many unpaid carers are forced to leave paid work, take on low-paid jobs or reduce working hours as they struggle with juggling caring responsibilities and paid employment. Or they must rely on inadequate social security benefits that are simply not enough to cover the essentials.
Unpaid carers often face higher costs and receive insufficient support from over-stretched and under-funded care services, which also rely more on private providers. In the current system, profits are prioritised over quality and access to services.
Paid care workers, both in social care and childcare, are widely under-rewarded. In the UK, occupations such childminding and care work accounted for the largest number of employee jobs paid below the real Living Wage in April 2021. Over a quarter of the UK’s residential care workers were living in, or on the brink of, poverty in 2017-20. Domestic workers are also very much exposed to exploitative practices and abuse.
Women do the vast majority of paid and unpaid care, in the UK
Women provide £382bn worth of unpaid childcare and £50bn worth of unpaid adult care each year; and represent more than 80% of the workforce in adult social care and over 90% in the childcare sector.
Black and minority ethnic women are more likely to live in households with dependent children and larger families. They are also more likely to work in health and social care, and migrant Black and minority ethnic women are over-represented amongst domestic workers such as cleaners and nannies.
This invisible network of mostly women, whose compassion to care is systemically taken for granted, is often expected by society and exploited by a world built on inequality.
Caring for someone can be both a cause and driver of gender and income inequality. It combines with other forms of inequality driven by, for example, racism, class or health discrimination. This means women are even more likely to be discriminated against.
This unequal system ignores and devalues the work that billions of women across the world do and is driving deeper inequality and poverty. Undervaluing care leaves many women without the time, money, or freedom to thrive.
Why is paid and unpaid care unfair?
This injustice is another symptom of a flawed economic system that prioritises profits, meaning governments, businesses and wider society make choices that exploit the compassionate nature of care – the fact that we’ll carry on caring for each other no matter what – at the expense of those doing the caring. Societies expectations and sexist attitudes result in more women providing care.
Both in the UK and globally, care is too often disregarded by governments and wider society as something that just happens, rather than the governments and societies collective responsibility. It is seen as low-skilled work and an activity of very little or no economic value. Yet caring is a basic human need and right which deserves to be recognised and valued.
How can we change this?
It’s time to change the story around care.
We must use our collective power to demand governments make the choices that produce a fair and equal future for all carers.
Governments must recognise and value the paid and unpaid care that mostly women provide by:
- Increasing investment in the care infrastructure (both social care and childcare); ensuring that quality and accessibility of services are prioritised over profits, adequate care is available to all who need it, unpaid carers and parents are properly supported, and care workers have access to fairly paid with good working conditions.
- Strengthening the social security safety net, so no one falls into poverty, including those who are unable to be in paid work due to caring responsibilities.
- Providing adequate support and flexibility in the workplace for those juggling unpaid care and paid employment.
- Putting the voices and experiences of carers at the heart of decision-making at all levels.
- Committing to collecting data and tracking progress on whether policies and spending decisions are effectively valuing and investing in all care and carers.
This isn’t just for a few of us: it’s for all of us, our families, our communities, and our global society. It’s about a fair and equal future for everyone.
What can I do to take action on care?
- Join JRF and Trussell Trust to tell the Government to Guarantee our Essentials: social security should cover the basics, but it doesn't.
- Follow #TimetoCare and #FightInequality on @Oxfam Campaigns to keep up to date and join in.
- Fundraise and help unpaid carers get the recognition they deserve by choosing an Unwrapped Gift Card for a friend.
Let's Start Telling a New Story About Care
Partnerships are key to our work
Oxfam collaborates with partners. Together, we have more impact and a stronger voice to demand better for all carers.
As Principal Partners, we support the work of:
Living Wage Foundation, at the heart of the independent movement of businesses and people campaigning for all workers, including in the care sectors, to have access to fair pay;
Greater Manchester Poverty Action, which influences local policies and practices to ensure that everyone, including many paid and unpaid carers, has access to adequate income through fair pay at work and adequate social security support.
Valuing and investing in care in Scotland
A Scotland that Cares
Oxfam Scotland is partnering with more than 60 organisations as part of the A Scotland that Cares campaign.
Together, they’re urging the Scottish Government to end the invisibility of care within its National Outcomes.
If you live in Scotland, ask the party leaders in the Scottish Parliament to back this vital change to help create a Scotland that cares.
Oxfam is working to tackle poverty and inequalities in Scotland by campaigning for action to fully value and invest in care.
We’re also boosting understanding about undervalued care through our partnership with the University of the West of Scotland.
Sarah Rees: Oxfam Cymru
Holding the Welsh Senedd to account on care
Across Wales, Oxfam Cymru work with partners to help build a fairer Wales, free from the injustice of poverty and inequalities that fuel it.
We all need care at some point in our lives. Those who care for us, whether they be unpaid carers, parents or paid care workers, face poverty as a direct consequence of caring.
Bringing the voices and experiences of those who care, to decision makers will create a Wales that truly cares.
Paid and Unpaid Care in the UK
Women provide £382bn worth of unpaid childcare per year in the UK
Women provide £50bn worth of unpaid adult social care per year in the UK
Women represent more than 80% of the workforce in adult social care in the UK