by Jan Logie
The Carers Bill that was rushed through parliament under urgency last Friday was another example of how women count for nothing in this economy.
The face of the family carers has been a man, and a wonderfully brave man at that, and nothing I am about to say is meant to undervalue his work – the very opposite in fact. However about two thirds of family carers are women. The Ministry of Business and Innovation and Employment website points out “The higher proportion of female carers at all age groups is consistent with lower rates of employment among females, including lower rates of full-time employment”
This is what Marilyn Waring described as the counting for nothing phenomena. Of course some men are doing this work too but because it was women’s work they too, sadly, have been caught in the slip stream of our inequality.
We also passed welfare reforms this year that entitles family members to a supported living benefit when caring for a family member who would otherwise be hospitalised. This benefit sits below the poverty line despite the savings being made by the Government when family care for their family members outside of hospital.
Last year Judy McGregor Challenged the government to address the significant pay equity issue of the appallingly low rates of pay for the female dominated workforce of rest home workers. Nothing has been done.
When the male dominated roles of statisticians and economists drew up current accounts they ignored all work within the home, so housework doesn’t count. It’s not considered productive. This has created in effect a residual category for everything women did, and still mostly continue to do. This didn’t have to be the case because of course it is possible to impute a value for any unpaid work if there is a market equivalent, and we have market equivalents for cleaning, cooking, caring…
This thinking has resulted in the complete invisibility of the productive work of the majority of the world in the National accounts.
This history has led us to where we are now.
We think we’re in an enlightened age of equality and equal opportunity. The legislation to allow the Government to pay family members below the market rate because they’re family is just another bleak reminder to the women of this country that nothing much has changed.
The invisibility of women’s work allows women to be paid less than men and allows work like caring that has been historically and still is predominantly done by women to be unpaid. It is also the explanation for why women are so much worse off financially compared to men.
The invisibility of women’s work from our accounts allows Governments to focus on the real economic issues like GDP – which treats earthquakes, and prisons and pollutions as good things.
In so many discussions about pay equity I’ve been told women should just do better paid work, i.e. not caring work. While I certainly want women to have a choice and I would like to see more men do caring work, I still acknowledge this work is skilled, needed and will actually be increasingly important to us as a society. I think it’s wack to think the answer to pay equity or any of our social problems is for women to care less.
We need to change this. It’s time we valued caring for others more than we value the devastation of our environment.