X Close

by Mary Harrington
Wednesday, 8
April 2020

Finally! The government recognises childcare as work

New rules say that people can be furloughed if they can't work due to caring responsibilities
by Mary Harrington
The new furlough guidance gives the example of caring for children but is phrased to cover ‘caring’ in general. Credit: Getty

The Government has updated its rules on furloughed employees so that people can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to caring responsibilities. The guidance on furlough gives the example of caring for children but is phrased to cover ‘caring’ in general, for example caring for loved ones who are elderly or disabled.

This is a welcome update. Carers were already under pressure: according to research for Carers Week, almost three quarters (71%) of carers suffer from mental ill health as a result of caring, while 61% said their physical health had also suffered. And social care services, stressed by frozen local authority budgets and steadily rising demand, are now facing an acute crisis as the demand for help with caring rockets even as care staff are forced to take time off due to illness.

Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in

But this rule change will likely be most significant for parents. School and childcare spaces have remained open for ‘key workers’ since lockdown began, but many of the country’s working parents have struggled to cope with working from home while also caring for children. In practice, more often than not, this means mothers. 51% of mothers with a child under 11 work part-time compared to 18% of men, presumably in order to make time for the 60% more unpaid household and caring work women perform compared to their male partners. This in turn is reflected in the ‘gender pay gap’, much of which can be accounted for by women treating caring as of equal or greater importance to paid work.

For a long time, public policy has appeared to see women’s preferences in regard to the balance of work and care as a problem to be solved, in order to get women into the workplace. The updated furlough rules departs from this trajectory, reflecting a deserved recognition that for all but the most career-oriented, loved ones ultimately take priority over career. This truth has long been reflected by the preferred working patterns of all but the most high-flying working women.

More generally, we should welcome an implicit recognition that caring is ‘key work’ not just in its paid but also its unpaid form. The everyday business of caring for loved ones has long been treated as the poor relation of the working world: a poorly supported and dowdy option for people who can’t find something more impressive to do. But as has already been remarked elsewhere, coronavirus has revealed society’s ‘key workers’ to be in many cases roles we have systemically underpaid and undervalued: fruit picking, waste collection, nursing and shelf stacking to name a few. The change to furlough rules should be seen as a grudging acceptance that informal care is also key work.

Perhaps I’m hopelessly idealistic but if one positive thing comes out of this horrible plague, it will be a shift in the importance we assign different kinds of work. And, perhaps, a greater measure of respect for the carers, both paid and informal, whose duties are revealed as not an impediment to achieving ‘greater things’ but more essential to the social fabric than many, if not most, of those supposedly greater things.

Join the discussion

To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Notify of
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Scott Allan
Scott Allan
3 years ago

Cjildcare has always been seen as work. And valuable work. It may be true 51% of mothers with a child under 11 MAY work part-time compared to 18% of men. But the stated presumtions beyond this are wild and baseless in facts.

In Warren Farrell’s new book “The Boy Crisis” the facts drawn from credible research show that men work longer hours and more dangerous jobs to support these children, while the often younger women do more house chores. Perhaps this sacrifice warrents a little more unpaid house work? Presenting a single side of the equasion, as this article does, is not fair or helpful.

Should parents be given time to care for family commitments? In Sweden both fathers and mothers are given a year for each child. Then fathers usually gift half of their time to mothers. Yes gift. Wisely the gifting is capped at 6 months or half of the fathers time. Because as Warren Farrell explains in his book children need equal contact with fathers to develop intelligence, empathy and social skills. Father absence is the leading contributor to children being 5 times more likely not to graduate high school, 9 times more likely to engage in high risk behaviours and 20 times more likely to be incarcerated. (Low income families have up to 55% father absence in the UK)

Of the “systemically underpaid and undervalued” professions that are of much higher risk jobs, 96% will be male jobs, just stating facts.

When you factor in the compensation for the increased risk jobs there is no “gender pay gap”. In fact until the age of 35 women are paid 8% more than men on average currently. 70% of graduates from university are women. Men’s only advantage in earnings is that they are prepared work many more hours each week, travel long distances for employment and perform more dangerous jobs. 96% of all workplace fatalities and serious injuries are male jobs. Not many fatal house chore injuries recorded last year. In fact not one.

As Warren Farrell stated in his interview with John Anderson, Australian former Deputy Prime Minister in an interview: https://www.youtube.com/wat… “maybe some gratitdue…??” Worth a watch for the brave and open minded. Both advocated for equal opportunity for boys and girls. I know crazy talk like that will get th mob set on you.

3 years ago

Social carers certainly deserve bankers’ bonuses more than the bankers themselves.