The Care Deficit: How Can We Rebalance the Books?

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It hasn’t been in the news. But it’s big.

There is a deficit in an extremely important commodity in the UK. If things continue as they are, this deficit will harm our country and our society. That’s you. That’s me. Its people you love.

In her book, The Time Bind, Arlie Russell Hochschild talks about how work has become home and home has become work. She talks about a care deficit: a contemporary society where care is produced less and less and consumed more and more.

This commodity of care (for it has become a commodity) is crucial for the young, the elderly, the infirm, mentally disabled, physically disabled, mentally ill, and those people whose bodies just, you know, aren’t working well enough to be totally independent, whether temporarily or permanently.

Independence: that highly prized virtue in a neoliberal modern day where the individual reigns supreme and screw everyone else. I’ve written before on economic dependency in adults; however, this is a deeper issue. It is a simple as people being there for each other – and having the ability and capacity to do so, rather than being under incessant pressure in an economic system which sees £ signs before human needs.

Care. pretty useful for the elderly and infirm. Politically, the care of the elderly has the potential to lead a politician to go weak at the knees. Care homes, care workers, selling houses to ‘pay for care’, standards of care, failings in care. Elderly people dying from thirst. In hospital.

As for babies, infants and children. It is vitally important for them because not only are they totally dependent and vulnerable, but the first three years of life are broadly accepted as being extremely important for the healthy development of human beings. Quite important, that, the nurturing and growing of human beings. Yet the only ‘care’ which seems to count so far as children are concerned is ‘childcare’ by anyone but mother.

So you got me. I own up. I am more concerned about the care deficit than the deficit-deficit. You know, that bogeyman (as Michael Rosen recently described it) up there with the old balance of payments or inflation. Because, when we are 80, senile, incontinent and frail, we will be more interested in the financial deficit than we will be in there being someone kind and decent wiping our bottoms. Because our 18-month-old babies are more interested in the balancing of the economic books than they are in having loving arms surrounding us, singing twinkle twinkle, and loving us. Just loving us. And when we undergo significant bone surgery, we will be more concerned with the economic deficit than the nurse who callously refuses to give us pain relief until the consultant goes berserk.

Because, come on. Money matters. Money is where it is at. Money makes the world go round. Said nobody with a heart.

Care, being such an undervalued and derided concept in our modern society, can be outsourced to others; or ranked; or traded; or measured; or bought. But at a cost. Efficiency has replaced humanity and nurture.

In the immediate aftermath of the General Election, I cannot help but think about this most threatening deficit.

After all, who cares?

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photo credit: Sweet Baby Possum in a Sock via photopin (license)

A shameless picture of a newborn possum.

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