In an article in The Times on 17/5/17, “Caring for the elderly shouldn’t be a girl’s job“, Alice Thomson criticises Mrs May’s manifesto policy to force companies to allow workers to take up to a year of unpaid leave to look after an elderly or sick relative. Her gripe is that “it’s women who are going to bear the brunt of this new plan“. I will make no comment on the policy itself, only on the factual veracity, or otherwise, of this claim of Thomson’s.
Thomson pads out her article with a number of misdirecting irrelevancies, such as issues around paid caring, and maternity versus paternity leave. The issue, though, is who are the unpaid carers? The only ‘evidence’ Thomson offers in the article is,
“It’s women who are going to bear the brunt of this new plan….Daughters are twice as likely as sons to become carers, according to the Office for National Statistics”
Probably most people would think so – because most people have the impression that almost all unpaid caring is done by women. But it isn’t.
I recall that, in 2014, the Men’s Health Forum published a report which showed that, over all age ranges, men are 42% of unpaid carers. I looked it up again to make sure. Here it is,
“More than four in ten (42%) of the UK’s unpaid carers are male, dispelling the stereotype that caring is a female issue, according to a new report from the Men’s Health Forum and Carers Trust. The report ‘Husband, Partner, Dad, Son, Carer?’ was commissioned to look into the experiences and needs of male carers and to help raise awareness of the fact that male carers may not be getting the support they need. Martin Tod, chief executive of the Men’s Health Forum said: “The UK’s 2.5 million male carers have been ignored for too long. They make a vital contribution, but face real extra health and work challenges that aren’t always properly addressed.”
It’s worth dwelling on that 42% statistic. Recall that, in round terms, men do 620 million hours paid work per week, compared to women’s 400 million hours. So, since men do 61% of the paid work, the fact that they are also contributing 42% of the unpaid care work seems pretty reasonable.
But even more surprising is unpaid caring for the over 65s. I recall Professor Christine Milligan, director of the Centre for Ageing Research, Faculty of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University, publishing an article in the Guardian in 2014 stating that men do more of the unpaid caring in the over 65 age range. I looked that one up again, too. Here is what it says,
“Currently ONS figures estimate that 15% of men over 65 are acting as carers, compared to 13% of women in the same age group. There are also more men between the ages of 50-65 than women aged 25-49 performing caring roles.”
It is particularly noteworthy that men do more of the caring in the retired age range, in view of men’s shorter life expectancy,
To check these sources were not misleading, I looked up the ONS data itself. The most recent data on carers is still that dated May 2013. It confirms the above statements, from both sources. [To be more precise, the last statement should read “A greater percentage of men between the ages of 50-65 than women aged 25-49 perform caring roles”]. It also confirms that pre-retirement age men cannot be regarded as slackers when it comes to unpaid caring with this statistic,
“In 2011 in England, 116,801 men and 81,812 women were in full-time employment while providing 50 hours or more unpaid care; in Wales the equivalent numbers were 9,320 and 5,068 respectively”
I trust that establishes the true position on unpaid caring.
Since this has been an unusually brief post (for me), I also offer the following titbit, albeit something completely different…..
On 17/5/17, Radio 4’s “All In The Mind” was on the subject of Unconscious Bias. (You may recall I prophesised we’de be hearing much more about “unconscious bias” over a year ago. Jordan Peterson has had some choice words to say about this particular misinterpretation of psychology research).
The programme was recorded in front of a live audience at the Royal Institute. The woman presenter introduced the panel of three women and one man. The theme throughout was women in physics. I’ll not dwell on it. You know exactly what to expect. It was the usual stuff. Am I accusing the BBC of unconscious bias in a programme on unconscious bias? No, of course not. I’m accusing them of absolutely conscious and deliberate bias in a programme on unconscious bias. But that’s not the titbit I promised. It’s this.
One of the women researchers asked the live audience to respond to two questions. You will have heard this before, and you may be surprised, as I was, that the researcher chose to run this experiment on ‘live’ radio. The questions were: what three adjectives immediately come to mind when I say “girl” – and ditto for “boy”. Anyone who has heard of this being done before will know what happens. This time was no exception. For “girl”, the researcher read out the top selected words in order, as follows,
strong, pretty, sweet, powerful, intelligent, smart, independent, clever, hard working
And for “boy” – amid laughter from the audience – she read out the top choices…
smelly, strong, annoying, dirty, ugly.
The researcher herself laughed, noting that she had done this many times and “smelly” was always a top choice for boys.
She then remarked, insouciantly, that the experiment proved how influenced we all are by stereotypes. The programme then continued its agenda to demonstrate how stereotyping harmed girls’ education in physics.
I know, I know. It makes one want to impact forehead hard and repeatedly on the nearest brick wall. They seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they had just demonstrated how our society has imposed gender stereotypes in which only glowingly positive adjectives may be attached to girls, whilst boys are represented as flat-out unpleasant. And they didn’t even notice. In a programme about unconscious bias.
And, as for “strong” being the top choice for “girl” – that couldn’t be an ideologically conditioned “choice”, by any chance?
[For what it’s worth, the words I came up with spontaneously were “privileged” for girls, and “bewildered” for boys].