Hana Abid reports on an innovative prospectus for a gender-equal economy rejecting a focus on growth

When the Women’s Budget Group launched our Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy we could not have imagined that the final report would be published in the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession. When the Commission was launched in Spring 2019, the idea was simple: to take a proactive approach to policy-making, with a vision for what a gender-equal economy could look like, and how it would work.

To accomplish this, the Commission travelled across the four nations of the UK, gathering evidence and holding consultation sessions with local organisations, researchers, policy experts and politicians, on what our future economy could be. The final publication, the report Creating a Caring Economy: a call to action, could not have been launched at a more poignant time. The report lays out the vision for a caring economy and outlines eight steps on how to create it.

The Commission’s caring economy is an economy that is based on gender equality, sustainability and wellbeing, rather than an economy that is focused on growth. This economy would prioritise care of one another and our environment, ensure that everyone has time to care for loved ones, as well as having time free from caring responsibilities. A caring economy would make it possible for men to share in unpaid caring responsibilities equally. We all give and receive care at some point in our lives, and a caring economy is one that not only recognises but values this. A caring economy is also one that recognises that our existing economy fails not only both women and men, but any group that is marginalised in society, including people from migrant and BAME communities. After explaining what a caring economy is and laying out what makes our current economy so uncaring, the report proposes how we can create a caring economy in 8 steps:

  1. Re-envision what we mean by ‘the economy’
  2. Invest in social and physical infrastructure
  3. Transform the worlds of paid and unpaid work
  4. Invest in a caring social security system based on dignity and autonomy
  5. Transform the tax systems across the UK
  6. Refocus fiscal and monetary policy on building a caring economy
  7. Work to develop a trade system that is socially and environmentally sustainable
  8. Work to transform the international economic system

What this means practically is that workers’ rights are respected, people have secure jobs, women and men are equally entitled to care leave and are paid at least a living wage, the gender pay gap is closed, the standard working week is shortened, and ‘green jobs’ are prioritised as valued career paths. Whilst some employers have already taken steps towards this, others focus only on short-term financial gain over long-term investment in people.

In a caring economy, government spending on high quality paid care services and social security is a crucial investment in the health and wellbeing of people now and in the future. In a caring economy, taxes are understood as a contribution to creating the public services and social security we all need and benefit from, which corporations are not exempt from.

What the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the economy have shown us is that although all of our lives have been changed, we are not all facing the same struggles. The entrenched inequality of our current economic model, the neglect of workers, people and the planet and the consistent prioritisaton of financial interests over health and wellbeing, have all been made clear in the light of the pandemic. However, the coronavirus crisis has also provided a glimpse into what a caring economy could look like. Local neighbourhood groups formed to look after others, air pollution levels fell, and many were able to enjoy more time with their families and loved ones. As we rebuild, it is important to remember that the economy is not an abstract entity that we must accept like the weather, but something that we all create. We make the economy, and we can make it work for all of us. The report of the Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy lays out the vision and the steps for how we can do this. The next stage is to make it happen.

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