A caring economy is an idea whose time has come. As the UK and its constituent countries face Brexit and continue to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, we present here a bold, innovative, transformative, and necessary alternative to our current economic model. While the ideas behind a caring economy have been a long time coming, they are now imperative, drawing on the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 crisis and reflecting what people across the UK want to see: an economy which puts people and planet first.
This report outlines eight steps to create a caring economy, based on gender equality, wellbeing, and sustainability.
A caring economy is an economy which prioritises care of one another and the environment in which we live. It is a dynamic and innovative economy in which humans, and our shared planet, thrive. In a caring economy, everyone would give and receive care on the basis of their capacities and needs. We all need care at various times in our lives. A caring economy ensures that everyone has time to care, as well as time free from care. A caring economy respects people’s multiple roles as carers, creatives, community members, partners, parents and so on, alongside their roles as paid workers. A caring economy takes a fuller understanding of the different parts of human existence into account.
Good quality care services, such as adult social care, healthcare and childcare are critical for a good economy. But a caring economy extends beyond care services: it involves caring about the pay and conditions of workers, acting together to end deprivation and poverty, to eliminate domestic violence and abuse, and caring about the planet on which we live together. A caring economy means acting together to improve wellbeing rather than to maximise economic growth.
A caring economy simultaneously ensures achievement of gender equality, sustainability and wellbeing). While these three objectives can, to some extent, be achieved separately, a caring economy allows them to be achieved together. For example, investment in paid care services improves wellbeing through ensuring that people’s care needs are met; it improves equality because it raises the overall employment rate and reduces the gender employment gap (which are particularly crucial as we seek to counter the looming jobs crisis), and it is sustainable because care jobs are green. Care is a relatively green industry: investing in care is three times less polluting (in terms of greenhouse gas emissions) than investing in the construction industry.
The experience of Covid-19 has given us some glimpses of what a caring economy might look like, in the ways that neighbourhood groups sprang up to support people especially vulnerable to the virus. But it has also showed us the many ways in which we have an uncaring economy, from the lack of personal protection equipment for health and social care workers, to the lack, for many months, of adequate financial support for those asked to quarantine, to low pay and poor conditions for so many ‘key workers’, to the ways in which mothers have been expected make up most of the shortfall in childcare with detrimental impacts on their own wellbeing. But these symptoms of an uncaring economy are caused by deep-rooted flaws of our current economic model, such as entrenched inequality, a neglect of wellbeing of people and planet, and an overwhelming focus on short-term financial interests, instead of long-term investment. Now, more than ever, a realignment of priorities is imperative.
Government responses to the pandemic have also demonstrated their ability and willingness to borrow to fund current spending on public services, social security and new subsidies, such as the furlough scheme, so as to try to save lives, jobs and livelihoods. This policy must be maintained, and directed to building a caring economy, particularly while interest rates are so low.