Without care ‘front and centre’ of economic recovery, how can we create a robust, resilient, wellbeing economy?

Without care ‘front and centre’ of economic recovery, how can we create a robust, resilient, wellbeing economy?

In an extended blog, Dr Angela O’Hagan responds to the recommendations, and omissions, in this week’s report on Scotland’s economic recovery.

On Monday 22 June, the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery  (AGER) published its rapid response on economic recovery.  WISE recognises the scale of the endeavour that will be required to advance the renewal and recovery of Scotland’s economy following the Covid-19 crisis, and the important contribution the AGER report makes to the debate. However, in our view there are some significant omissions.

The WISE submission is cited in the report in the process requirements of intersectional data and analysis. While we welcome that important signal from the Advisory Group, it is pivotal to reiterate and reinforce that intersectionality is a theory of oppression and not identity.  This means that politicians and policy makers in the Scottish Government and beyond need to understand the ways in which gender, race, and class intersect to create conditions and experiences of discrimination and unequal treatment.  In the AGER report there is a clear steer to public bodies on taking an approach that puts eliminating inequality, and advancing equalities and human rights, front and centre of decision-making. This means understanding the diverse lived realities of people across Scotland.

This acknowledgement along with confirming that participation in decision making must characterise approaches to economic recovery sets a positive direction.  Nevertheless, the treatment of equalities is presented as an approach to policy making, and not a core recommendation.  Such a ‘mainstreaming’ approach needs to be reinforced with specific recommendations for action.  Operationalising a mainstreaming approach such as this requires committed and tenacious leadership from ministers, directors and senior managers across the Scottish Government and public sector to ensure the advancement of equality and the realisation of human rights really are the common and consistent starting point for decision making and not an add on.  Given the extent of persistent inequalities in Scotland that Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated, the Scottish Government and public bodies will be held to a higher standard of accountability on equalities and human rights in economic and social renewal and recovery actions.

Covid-19 has caused immense damage to the physical, economic and social health of many people in Scotland.  All these experiences have required care – in hospitals, in care homes, in other settings, in homes, and of children not attending formal education.  Care has been a focus of public sentiment and political challenge.  Care and the need for investment in care as central to our economic and social infrastructure was the principal focus of the WISE submission.  We highlighted the significant economic contribution that investing in social care infrastructure delivers.  Our submission drew on work from de Henau and Himmelweit and others (2016, 2017) which has since been updated, demonstrating even further the economic benefits at macro level, for individuals, and in relation to increased tax revenue.  As De Henau and Himmelweit conclude:

“Economic recovery from Covid-19 will require stimulus through public expenditure… a greater employment stimulus could be made in any recovery plan by investing in care than in construction, the conventional object of stimulus programs. Even accounting for the shorter hours and lower wages paid in the care industry, investment in it still produces more jobs overall. Investment in care also yields far more employment for women…The gender employment gap would fall, whereas investment in construction would increase it, while creating very few jobs for women.”

According to De Henau and Himmelweit not only is urgent reform to care systems long overdue, but from their analysis of 8 OECD countries, they find that “investment in care continues to outperform investment in construction in total employment creation by at least 60% in all European countries.”

As a vision towards a robust and resilient wellbeing economy, it is enormously disappointing to see that in the AGER report there is minimal consideration of care.  It is also disappointing that faced with the opportunity to re-vision investment to include care and to address the glaring under financing and resourcing of care that the Covid-19 experience has revealed with all its attendant implications for unpaid carers and gender equality, the Advisory Group has not taken up the necessary challenges.

Consistent with responses from other organisations, including commentary from the STUC and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, the failure to put the care economy at the heart of economic renewal and recovery reveals a limited view of the economy as being about business.  If, as the First Minister said in her famous 2018 TED talk, “wellbeing is to be at the heart of everything we do”, then there is a way to go.  This cannot be achieved without addressing not only investment in care provision but the remuneration, terms and conditions of a workforce that mainly comprises women, and thousands of unpaid carers.  Recovering our economic strength requires a recognition and valuing of our collective reliance on receiving and giving care.

26 June 2020

De Henau, Jerome and Susan Himmelweit (2020) ‘Stimulating OECD economies post-Covid by investing in care.’ IKD Working Paper No. 85 June 2020, available at http://www.open.ac.uk/ikd/sites/www.open.ac.uk.ikd/files/files/working-papers/COVID%20care-led%20recovery_IKD_WP85_2020_06_12%20%28003%29.pdf

De Henau, J, S Himmelweit and D Perrons (2017) Investing in the Care Economy – Simulating employment effects by gender in countries in emerging economies.  International Trade Union Confederation available at https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/care_economy_2_en_web.pdf

De Henau, J, S Himmelweit and D Perrons (2016) Investing in the Care Economy – A gender analysis of employment stimulus in seven OECD countries available at https://www.ituc-csi.org/investing-in-the-care-economy

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