Global economic inequality is deeply driven by gender inequalities. At the core of global wealth inequalities, highlighted at the World Economic Forum in Davos during 21-24 January 2020, is a global care crisis, which fails to recognise the value of care – unpaid and underpaid work and responsibilities mostly delivered by women – in societies across the world. These pertinent challenges are highlighted by new research from Oxfam, the New Economics Foundation and the Center for Development Studies (CIEDUR) in Uruguay who presented during the ‘Tackling the Care Crisis, Challenging Global Inequality’ session as part of the London School of Economics’ International Inequalities Institute Lecture Series on 28 January. These are three of some of the many important messages highlighted during this event:
Global inequality is highly gendered. While the majority of wealth is owned by a small and select number of people (2,153 people owned more wealth than 4.6 billion people in 2019) the economy is male-dominated (22 of the richest men own more than all women in the African continent). One of the main causes is informal and invisible work mostly being carried out by women, who are locked outside of the public domain. Domestic care work presents a significant obstacle to their political participation.
Care work is an essential social and public good, but it is invisible, undervalued and mostly unpaid. In Uruguay, unpaid care work represents 23% of GDP. Significant efforts have been made to acknowledge the public value of care work and enhance work policies, such as maternity and paternity leave, yet the cost of these incremental changes have only constituted 0.2 per cent of GDP.
The care crisis is not an issue of low-income countries, but a global challenge affecting all, including high-income countries. In the UK, care work is less and less provided through core public services and increasingly captured by private providers without assurance of the adequacy and quality of care provided. Eighty-four per cent of care for young children is provided privately, in comparison to 3% in Germany and 4% in France. Families in the UK, on average, spend 30% of their income on childcare, in comparison to 9% in France and 4% in Sweden. The gaps in care provision are taken up by informal workers and family members, without adequate remuneration for their time and labour.
The presenters highlighted many initiatives made internationally to move towards alternative economies, that put value to the care sector in a changing world of work. The ILO now counts care work as part of its definition of the labour force. However, both presenters and participants in the audience highlighted the continuing need to change mindsets, in order to give the appropriate value to care, as an economic good and a social driver of our society, due to its essential role to ensure well-being and living standards. To do this, narratives and perspectives of care work need to be shifted away from one that sees care as that which we provide to the vulnerable, as we all care for and with each other.