Tonbridge & Malling Green Party Secretary Fran Long says society undervalues so-called "women's work", especially caring, and looks to a future where these roles are properly appreciated and rewarded.
There is a lot of talk recently about 'robots taking over our jobs' and loads of people being out of work. At the same time, one in every ten nursing posts remains vacant, and care homes struggle to recruit staff. Why is this? The simple answer is that vital services (traditionally seen as women's work) such as childcare, elderly care and nursing are not paid enough to attract staff. Of course 12 hour shifts, unsocial hours and the fact that the work is challenging are also factors in the difficulties in recruitment!
Although it is 100 years since some women first won the vote, traditional women's work is still looked down upon. Women who compete with men to work in offices and take on traditional male trades are considered to have done well and are paid accordingly (although still often paid less than male equivalents, as we have learned from the BBC cases recently).
In contrast women who take on jobs in the care sector, or look after children, disabled or elderly relatives at home are undervalued and poorly paid (if paid at all!).
In the future many office jobs and driving jobs risk could be taken over by robots. Even some highly skilled jobs in law and medical diagnosis may partly be performed by robots. In contrast, jobs in the care sector can only be performed by human beings. You can train a robot to perform many mundane tasks undertaken by carers, but the performance of these tasks is not the real value of the role. The real value is the human contact ... the small talk, shared appreciation of a joke, warm touch, a smile or some other recognition of shared humanity.
I know from my experiences in nursing that patients were more grateful for time spent listening to them or chatting than ever they were for time slogging over heavy lifting and dressing mucky wounds (although obviously this also has to be done - often at the same time as the chat and small talk). Recent studies confirm that loneliness is a big killer, and so this comes as no surprise. (1)
Babies thrive best when they are cared for by their mother or another single adult carer. They are comforted by the warmth of human contact and continuity, and learn and gain confidence this way. (2)
Parents with permanent employment are now able to take a year's parental leave to bond with their babies. However, many parents have unstable employment and are forced to return to work early, leaving their children in nurseries. Nursery work is demanding, but low paid. It is often undertaken by staff who are tired, demoralised and uninterested. There is often a high turnover of staff due to the poor pay and conditions.
Academic studies have shown that inconsistent care of babies from too many people can cause children to become insecure and develop problems as they become older. (3)
It seems strange that our society puts so little value on the care of our next generation that we are willing to devolve it to girls on the minimum wage or slightly above. It is sometimes argued that staff should be happy because their work is 'rewarding' but a monetary reward is necessary to pay a rent or mortgage!
A survey by an Australian terminal care nurse asked patients about the good things from their lives and what they regretted. (4) Almost all would like to have spent more time with friends and families or travelling. Yet with the current way our society is organised, people seem to spend less and less time with friends and family. Automation and computers should enable us to work less and spend more time with loved ones, but instead a number of pointless jobs have been created to keep people busy selling unnecessary stuff that nobody needs. People are forced into this pointless work because the necessary and vital work of caring is labelled 'low skilled' and poorly paid.
I imagine and hope for a Green Future when caring and traditional “women's work” will have equal status to trading arms, selling financial packages, and finding loopholes in the law for tax dodgers. Then, when we are paid properly, men will compete with women to fill these sought after jobs, and men who become carers may be admired ... and people may say, “Hasn't he done well?”