Care is one of the key areas of women’s inequality in Scotland, with women representing the majority of service users, the vast majority of the social care workforce, and the majority of unpaid carers. Care continues to be undervalued and underpaid, precisely because of its long association with ‘women’s work’ and outdated gender norms.
Yet the Scottish Government’s Consultation on a proposed National Care Service for Scotland seems to completely ignore this fact, failing completely to consider gender in their proposals. Equality is not embedded in their plans, and the consultation document does not take into account women’s lives and experiences. The Government has not even published an equality impact assessment as part of the consultation, which would have highlighted the disproportionate impact that failures in social care have on women. In order to be effective, impact assessments should be done as early as possible to actually inform the development of policy.
The combination of Covid-19 and Brexit has highlighted, more than ever, the need for a total reform of the way Scotland cares for its population. Care is infrastructure that supports women and disabled people to participate equally in paid work and leisure, just as roads and bridges do, and there is a need to adjust our perceptions and funding to recognise this. Withdrawal of social care services during the pandemic saw more and more women take on additional unpaid care – with the number of carers in Scotland increasing by a third. Chronic underfunding of social carers is leading to a staffing crisis, unacceptable working conditions, and a care system which can’t support those who need it. This has a particular impact on women of colour, disabled women, and migrant workers.
Which is why we're so disappointed to see that this consultation is almost entirely gender-blind. Care continues to be ignored by decision makers who prefer to focus on headline-grabbing stories and shiny new construction projects. Actually, we know that investing in care is one of the best ways to support economic recovery – spending just 1% of UK GDP in the care sector would produce 2.7 times as many jobs in the economy overall as an equivalent investment in construction, not to mention being three times less polluting.
If the Scottish Government is serious about an economic recovery that centres equality and sustainability, they must go much further in their plans by embedding women's equality in the redesign of social care as a key principle and objective in founding the National Care Service. Quality care must be universally accessible and free at the point of need, with minimum standards of support in a system which allows people to have control and flexibility according to their needs.
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