Do we really care?

Unpaid caring work is carried out by millions of family members and friends every year, saving governments billions of dollars.

This type of so-called ‘reproductive’, ‘care’ or ‘community’ work is not considered to be ‘productive work’ as there are no outcomes, results or profits to be gained. It could also be said that this work is not really valued in our society for the important function that it has; it doesn’t appear in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is basically taken for granted.

The so-called ‘Care Economy'[1] calls for a way of life that takes into account that there is more to life than being successful in the productive work realm.

Through understanding the notion of the ‘Care Economy’, we raise awareness about the value of care – an important aspect of our society’s harmonious function, but one that has been taken for granted by ‘free’ markets and economists who see the world of the household life and social conviviality may be crucial for a stable, healthy and successful life, but dismiss them as free and self-refilling or non-economic resources that exist outside of the market realm and can be ignored or exploited at will.

But how can we expect care to have a dollar value, when care should be an intrinsic part of life?

The truth is however that it already has an economic value, one that is being invisibly exploited, with women usually bearing the brunt of this exploitation. Consider that it is often health care expenditure that is reduced from the Government Budget at the cost of peoples’ income and time.

Care in numbers – it’s $ value

In the UK, figures from 2011 show that care provided by friends and family members to ill, frail or disabled relatives was worth a staggering £119 billion every year compared to £87 billion in 2007, and has therefore risen by over a third. With this, unpaid care work surpasses the total cost of the NHS (£98.8 billion). There are around 6.4 million people in the UK providing care for ill or disabled loved ones that would otherwise cost the state £18 an hour, meaning that each carer saves the Government an average £18,473 a year.[2]

This level of care reduces the ability of the care-taking family member to work full time and to provide themselves with a decent income. It also has become clear that it is mainly women who as workers, producers, consumers, wives and mothers, are the shock absorbers and the unsung heroes of caring at immense cost to their own wellbeing.

In Australia an estimated 5.5 million people aged 15 to 64 have unpaid caring responsibilities and 72.5% of those primary carers are women. Unpaid carers, particularly women, have significantly lower rates of workforce participation and are more likely to work in part-time and casual jobs. This shows the massive contribution unpaid care work provides to the formal economy. For instance, an estimated 1.32 billion hours are spent providing unpaid care for people with disabilities each year!8 If paid care providers replaced these unpaid carers the cost would be approximately $40.9 billion per annum.[3]

Although the above figures show that a huge part of human life is around caring for others, apart from caring for ourselves, we live in a society where care is not valued.

No wonder that there is a consistent exclusion of valuing staff wellbeing and a general care for staff in our business processes, educational institutions and workplaces.

Although academics are keen to identify how policy frameworks of equal sharing of responsibilities can be put into practice and how we can increase awareness for the need for care services, there is no true change in sight.

Why don’t we care?

Worldwide evidence can be found in the human and social costs of an uncaring way of life and the boom of our so-called economic success is bringing us to our knees. Illness and disease are rising and the general wellbeing of people is tainted by exhaustion, anxiety, lack of health and vitality. With this the health systems are collapsing, the education systems do not know how to address the (self) abusive behaviour of teenagers, and old people are held in prison-like homes waiting for a lonely and unloving death.

Analysing the world from a gender perspective, girls are brought up to be carers for others and boys are shown from a young age that there is always someone who cares for them. Who actually learns to truly care for themselves?

The mainstream lifestyle model even judges care and self-care: who has time for home cooking today or to take care of the basic domestic tasks? People are too busy, and if you do admit you have time for those things in life you are out of the super-busy successful business league. Today, to rest, sleep, nourish oneself and live a self-caring life is considered a very unpopular and boring activity.

A society that lives off recognition, status and material assets has no value for this ‘invisible’ care work, that does not produce saleable and identification loaded outcomes and needs to be done repetitively every day to support our wellbeing. Gender equality policies have done a huge part in redefining the productive work realm for women and claiming it a space of equal share, but why are we not focussing on what truly matters in life; the love and care we wake up with and go to bed with every day?

Could it be that we focussed on the wrong end of the equation, pushing everybody into the performance of a successful work life, neglecting true love and care as the foundation of all human life?

Why is that we place a monetary value on people that play the stock market and gamble when at the end of the line are all the people who are suffering from the lack of care in society? Why do bankers get paid massive amounts of money for promoting and maintaining an economy that does not put true care at its core?

Why is the selling of un-nutritious fast food a successful business idea if it has led to an extreme rise in illness and disease, general bodily dysfunction and often the combination of malnourished people together with obesity?

As retired CEO Neil Gamble points out, “selling poisoned water bottled as sugared water to people as a business can never be successful; it is a failed business model from the word go … because they have chosen a product that is destructive to mankind."

And where is the success of a multi-billion dollar project, with a fantastic set-up and design, when the very people who worked on it are exhausted, unwell, dependent on stimulants, generally struggling with life and often totally burned-out or seriously sick.

So, why do we focus on a form of success that is disjointed from the people who should be reflecting true success in their lifestyle, state of health and general wellbeing?

How can we call success that which retards us?

We should raise the question of where accountability for the economic and public health consequences properly rest as the figures and stats around the rates of illness, disease and general lack of well-being are showing us clearly that there is something very, very wrong when we negate care as a central aspect of business and life generally.

Individual responsibility and collective accountability

For a prosperous life for sure all industries need to strive, but if there is no care in them, nor consideration for the whole of our communities, then there is no true functioning and we as society are tripping over this missing link. We are concerned about social policies and how to take care of the ill, sick and young, but we do not consider that the ‘free’ market is not free if it works with a licence to harm. Freedom can never harm, freedom is only true in the context of serving truth: truth to the people and not to a product that promises monetary success at the expense of our wellbeing. Anything else is irresponsible.

Care should be embedded in all industries as it is about people. The products and consumables we produce on a worldwide scale are produced by and for people. We do not produce random things that do not impact people. A brilliant business idea can only be as brilliant as how it serves its people. And with the growing industrialization we are witnessing, the aspect of serving people is losing its meaning.

So what are we actually valuing? Why do we value stimulation and destruction, but not care? We are void of care and the market is a reflection of this lack of care of producers and consumers; only if we start taking responsibility as a whole and bring value to care will we lead the path to true success. We are collectively accountable for the state of our market, but it is through our individual responsibility that we will start to make changes.

Taking care starts with self-care that supports us to develop self-love and from there love as the foundation of all our interactions.

Self-care is about putting ourselves first, not in a selfish but responsible way, so that we have a true foundation from where we can connect with life without losing or exhausting ourselves. It is like when you are on an airplane and the cabin crew tells you to put on your oxygen mask before you tend to others. It is the same with self-care. We need to look after ourselves first and then we can look after others with true vitality and love, which is actually our true state of being.

It is time to look deeper into how we care for ourselves, as how we care for ourselves will ultimately and intimately affect how we care for others, the quality we bring to our work and the quality we bring to the world.


  • [1]

    The “care economy” refers to all the tasks where people are responsible for taking care of others, being the upbringing of children, the care for ill and elderly people and all kinds of tasks related to building relationships between people. It refers to paid care work (taking care for example of the sick and elderly in hospitals or nursing homes) and unpaid care work (family members taking care within the household).

  • [2]

  • [3]

    Investing in care: Recognising and valuing those who care, Community Guide, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013 p. 3

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AccountabilityAgeingHealth conditionsRelationshipsSelf-love

  • By Rachel Andras, MA Gender & Development, MA Social Education

    Gender policy advisor, facilitator of change management processes, adult and youth educator, focusing on body awareness and (self) care as an essential category of value-creation, impulsing processes of real change by guiding people towards themselves as experts of their own realities.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd