Women continue to shoulder the bulk of caring responsibilities and pay for it both in terms of reduced employment opportunities and often substantially smaller pensions, according to a report to be Launched at Leinster House on Wednesday.
A Feminist Vision of Care and Equality was jointly commissioned by ActionAid Ireland and National Women’s Council (NWC), and highlights the scale of society’s reliance on women to provide care, both paid and unpaid, as well the experience of those impacted.
It is based on a series of workshops held last year and attended by women with a range of experiences of caring as well as testimonies at the Human Rights Hearing on care. The work was supported by a grant from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
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Contributors spoke of “fighting a losing battle” in a situation where they found it “impossible to be financially comfortable”, with one describing aspects of the current system of supports as “degrading”.
The report cites census and Economic and Social Research Institute data that suggests 60 per cent of unpaid carers in Ireland are women and because they are often required to take lower-paid or part-time work or exit the workforce completely, they pay for it in later life with pensions that are on average 35 per cent lower than those received by men.
The report, which is based on research by academics Ursula Barry and Ciara Jennings, finds that 80 per cent of paid, full-time care workers in Ireland are women, with the figure standing at 75 per cent globally. The work, it suggests is generally low-paid and often precarious.
It calls for Government action to address the issue and provide additional supports to groups that can be marginalised and vulnerable to poverty such as one-parent families, those with disabilities and members of the Traveller community.
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Among the report’s recommendations are a comprehensive and publicly funded model of care which should, its authors say, be “gender responsive” and a link between the pay of full-time care workers and appropriate public service grades.
It also calls for increased budgets for the provision of personal assistance to those with disabilities, substantially increased State spending on childcare services and a universal State pension.
Internationally, the authors suggest, Ireland should support calls to recognise care as a human right.
Speaking ahead of the launch NWC director Orla O’Connor said the report was timely given the forthcoming referendum on care.
“This paper could not have come at a more opportune time. Care work is the cornerstone of our economy and wider society. This report provides a clear roadmap for how the State can properly value and invest in our care system through enhanced services and supports. It also provides a roadmap for tackling some of the most important roadblocks towards women’s economic equality. It shows how the voices of women and affected groups must be at the heart of such transformational change.
“Voting ‘yes’ will send a strong message about the society we want to have, where everyone who provides care receives proper support and recognition. It will acknowledge that care should not only be provided by women, but should be shared equally within our homes, by the State and broader society.”
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ActionAid chief executive Karol Balfe said the issue “is fundamentally about gender equality”.
“The large majority of care work that women carry out globally is not recognised as having any economic value as it remains largely hidden, invisible and unmeasured. In practical terms, this leads to economic inequality and poverty for many women, a wide gender pay gap, and an even wider gender pension gap for women in older age.”
The report can be accessed here.
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