Many remind us, as we think about 2020, that it was a wasted year, a year to forget. This isn’t exactly how we see things. What has been invaluable about the past 10 devastating months is that the issue of treatment has been brought to the center of public conversation by this pandemic. This very old term has again come into vogue, and with some surprising twists. The role of caregiving has always been underestimated. Much hands-on care work has traditionally been overlooked as the “unproductive” domestic work of women or, more recently, dismissed as underpaid work primarily shouldered by insecure, frequently foreign, staff.
Combined with racism, sexism further devalues this significant work.
Decades of benefit cuts, accompanied by the harsh austerity measures implemented in 2010, have contributed to a shortage of sufficient care facilities that is now visible from cradle to grave at every level of British life: cuts to the NHS, its selective privatization, and the elimination of nursing grants have already led to significant shortages of hospital beds, doctors, and nurses.
That is why we’ve seen such unequal infection rates and extraordinarily high mortality rates during this pandemic, more than double those in Germany.
As Richard Horton, the Lancet publisher, observed, long before Covid-19 appeared, the UK was already “the sick man of Europe” In 2017, the Care Collective was founded by five of us from diverse academic backgrounds and wrote the Care Manifesto to illustrate how uncaring our culture has become. The ongoing social care disaster is just the nadir of this systematic neglect of care, especially for the disabled and elderly. As public services, mostly to multinational companies, have been reduced or outsourced, paying caregivers themselves face intolerable and insecure working conditions that restrict any quality of treatment. The resulting treatment frequently mocks the name of care, with too little security for the caregivers or those being cared for. Meanwhile, several businesses are busy portraying themselves as caring through various campaigns of “carewashing” and “coronawashing” Others have made vast profits from outsourced care and, more recently, from failed systems of testing and tracking.
It takes a radical approach to combat this systematic negligence: we must start by placing treatment and well-being at the core of policy. This starts with improving public health care and encouraging local communities to cope with our current health crises, and continues with finding innovative approaches to ensure social and environmental well-being.
For example, we see councils embracing policies such as the “Preston Model” in a growing global movement promoting progressive communalism, attempting to outsource previously outsourced local infrastructure while providing support for new modes of ownership and economic cooperation. Placing care at the center of policy often needs us to realize that there is no “practical” care in a holiday. The explanation that treatment is in such a multi-faceted crisis today is because of all that surrounds it is intractable interconnectedness. For instance, we must have access to adequate accommodation, kitchen equipment, and ingredients sourced from our local (digital or physical) marketplace in order to cook a nutritious meal for our loved ones. Our vegetables may be grown locally and exported fairly, or, conversely, traded unfairly and at risk of intense labor abuse in the supply chain.
Practically and structurally linked are the different ways of caring at home, on the street, or in the workplace. Working to build more caring societies demands that they also be more democratic; forging a community where everyone thinks their voice is heard.
As compared to a consumerist, individualistic, and apolitical lifestyle, it also needs a mutual dedication to getting them understood. For instance, while most “care economy” depictions focus mainly (and narrowly) on staff in the care sector, the Women’s Budget Group’s 2020 report specifically covers wider issues of gender equity and environmental sustainability. Pleads Our Manifesto