Time to Care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis
In 2019, the world’s 2,153 billionaires had more wealth than 4.6 billion people. The richest 22 men in the world owned more wealth than all the women in Africa. Oxfam International’s report, Time to Care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis, published on January 20, 2020, discusses these extremes of wealth inequality.
report states that such inequality is based on a “…flawed and sexist economic
system that values the wealth of the privileged few, mostly men, more than the
billions of hours of the most essential work – the unpaid and underpaid care
work done primarily by women and girls around the world.” Care work includes
looking after children, elderly people and those with physical and mental
illnesses or disabilities, as well as domestic work such as cooking, cleaning,
washing, mending and fetching water and firewood.
four-part report covers wealth inequality and the exploitation of women and
girls (chapter 1); care workers and the value of care (chapter 2); the ‘spiralling
inequality and care crisis’ (chapter 3); and solutions to tackle these crises
for a ‘future that cares for all’ (chapter 4).
This January 2020 reports quotes United Nations estimates – 820 million people on the planet remain hungry. However, the World Bank estimates that only 735 million are living in extreme poverty. This means that (at least) 85 million people across the world are not considered to be extremely poor even though they do not have enough to eat.
The report says: “If everyone were to sit on their wealth piled up in $100 bills, most of humanity would be sitting on the floor. A middle-class person in a rich country would be sitting at the height of a chair. The world's two richest men would be sitting in outer space.”
Taxing an additional 0.5 per cent of the wealth of the richest one per cent over the next 10 years will equal investments needed to create 117 million jobs in education, healthcare and elderly care, and other sectors, worldwide.
In India, people living on $1.90 a day have a mortality rate of three times the global average (the report does not specify these rates).
Globally, women do more than three-fourths of unpaid care and constitute up two-thirds of paid care workforce. ‘Paid care work’ refers to caring for people or doing domestic work for pay. It takes place in public and private ‘care sectors’ such as education, health and social work, and also in private households.
‘Unpaid care work’ is defined as caring for people (such as bathing a child or taking care of sick or frail adults) and undertaking domestic work (such as cooking and doing laundry) without receiving any explicit financial compensation. Such work usually takes place within households, but it can also involve caring for friends, neighbours or other community members.
Underpaid and unpaid care work, the report notes, is disproportionately done by poor women and girls across the world, especially those from groups that experience discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and caste.
The global monetary value of unpaid care work done by women who are over 15 years is at least $10.8 trillion annually – three times the size of the world's tech industry.
Women from the poorest households in low-income communities in India, Kenya, Philippines, Uganda and Zimbabwe, spend an average of 40 minutes more each day on care work activities than women in better-off households. In these countries, girls from the poorest households spend an average of seven hours a week more on care work, as compared to girls in households that are less poor.
Under the National Rural Health Mission of India, since 2005, the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has trained hundreds of thousands of accredited social health activists (ASHAs) to provide better access to health services in rural India. They “…are the backbone of India’s rural health system.” Though they are paid care workers, the report says, they are not recognised as workers and don’t have the rights and protections that accompany the status of a worker. ASHAs, the report notes, have been organising across India, calling for minimum wage, social protection benefits, and recognition as workers.
Investing in ‘care-supporting infrastructure’ like access to water, sanitation and electricity can have a tremendous effect on reducing care work. Access of electricity particularly benefits families living in poverty in households in low-income communities in India, women spend an hour less on care work as compared to women in better-off households.
In countries where the government provides childcare support – either through direct provision or subsidies – 30 per cent of women are in paid employment, compared with just 12 per cent in countries without such policies.
Focus and Factoids by Anusha Parthasarathy.
20 Jan, 2020