Why we must value care-work | Industry push for construction to re-open | New NRS data
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10/01/2020 | View in browser
Nourishing the care economy

When the inevitable inquiry takes place into what's happened in care homes in Scotland during this crisis, there will undoubtedly be myriad reasons identified for why the necessary protections were not in place when they were needed. But as one Source Direct subscriber who has had experience of a family member in a care home said to me by way of explanation: "Fundamentally, care staff are mainly female, low-paid, low-status and with limited trade union representation".

That gets to the heart of it. One can and should talk about over-centralisation, privatisation, ineffective government leadership, lack of preparation, and so forth, but if care home staff had the social make-up of bankers this would have never happened. The most remarkable statistic in this crisis came near the beginning, when the Autonomy think-tank found that out of just over one million workers in the UK working at high-risk during the Covid-19 crisis and earning poverty pay, 98 per cent of those are women. The key workforce in that constituency are social carers.

So when we start talking about creating a better society out of this crisis, let's start by acknowledging what we are actually dealing with here: modern forms of a centuries-old exploitation of women. This crisis has shown conclusively both that care is fundamental to holding society together - whether it is childcare, the unpaid carer, the home-carer or the care home worker - and that working class women are the ones who still bear the brunt of that work and are still serially under-valued.

The Women's Budget Group's Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy published its report last week, and found that the proportion of unpaid care for adults undertaken by women actually increased between 2000 and 2015 in the UK. As home-care services are slashed for thousands in Scotland, many more people are finding that they are trying to juggle unpaid care for family with jobs, and that double-work burden will fall mainly on women.

The essential nature of much of this work is revealed when family can't or won't provide unpaid care, as either the state steps in or vulnerable people are abandoned. A report
published yesterday by the Glasgow Disability Alliance on how the crisis is affecting its members found that council cuts to home-care services since 16 March meant: "Many disabled people have been left reliant on neighbours, other vulnerable relatives, or simply with no-one to meet intimate personal care needs like meals, medications, support to shower or use the toilet."

To address this, we need an economy with different priorities, one where care work is seen as the foundation that it is, and thus resources are re-allocated on that basis. The anthropologist David Graeber found in his book 'Bullshit Jobs: A Theory' that labour resources are fundamentally misallocated in the current economy towards satisfying those with economic power. 'Bullshit jobs' is all the work that is being done that is either pointless or pernicious, like "flunkies" to satisfy CEOs or "task-masters" who create box-ticking exercises for employees which can actually hinder their productivity. Graeber's research suggests bullshit jobs could make up as much as 40 per cent of the workforce in wealthy countries. Many may have just realised their job is bullshit while in lockdown, as nothing changes without it. Meanwhile, "non-bullshit jobs" - care, most critically - are either serially under-valued or not paid at all.

Graeber argues that leftist thought has been overly preoccupied with the production process, and not thought enough about maintenance, which care is fundamental to.

"You ask any Marxist about labour and labour-value, they always immediately go to production," he says. "Well, here’s a cup. Somebody has to make the cup, it’s true. But we make a cup once, and we wash it ten thousand times, right? That labour just completely disappears in most of these accounts. Most work isn’t about producing things, it’s about keeping them the same, it’s about maintaining them, taking care of them, but also taking care of people, taking care of plants and animals."

We don't need to create a care economy, because it already exists. What we need to do is to nourish care by giving it financial value and ensure that any care-gaps that currently exist are filled and equally valued. If we aren't going to nourish the care economy now, we never will.

Ben Wray, Source Direct
Top Story
Industry push for construction re-open; Care homes make up half of Covid-19 deaths

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB Scotland) is pressing the Scottish Government to open up non-essential construction sites, arguing firms face financial ruin within weeks unless sites are re-opened.

From Monday, three of the UK's biggest house builders will re-open their sites in England, but no such agreement is in place in Scotland.

FMB Scotland wants a timeline for doing the same north of the border, warning small builders will go bust without such a plan.

The warning comes after grim statistics yesterday on Covid-19 deaths in Scotland, with the weekly National Records of Scotland data showing more than half of deaths are now happening in care homes.

338 of the 656 deaths registered between 20-26 April were in care homes. The total number of people to have died with confirmed or suspected is now 2,272.

The data also showed 'excess mortality', the number of deaths more than would be expected for this time of year, is 3,116 for the last four weeks.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the deaths included six members of the NHS and five social care workers.

On the ground

We are keen to hear from subscribers about their experiences on the ground during this crisis. You can get in touch at

One subscriber e-mailed in to highlight that on the Isle of Skye, where she lives, they have produced their own protective visors for the NHS, pointing to a report in the West Highland Free Press which is worth reading.

Another subscriber emailed in about Scottish Government failings:

"The SNP likes to promote Nicola Sturgeon's much more competent presentation of the Scottish Government's tackling of Covid-19 than that of Johnson and co's unbelievable public performances.   

"Yet this hides the reality that the Scottish NHS and the care sector (despite some differences) have also been run on a  management basis which has led to the same lack of PPE in Scotland as in England (despite plenty of warning). The highly paid managers prioritise the meeting of arbitrary targets (based on 'market' shadowing criteria), opening up services to private firms for profit, minimising wage costs and job security, whilst lining their own pockets and hiding their multiple failings behind a cloak of confidentiality. (Much the same could be said of the other services, especially education).

"Yesterday's Source Direct report highlights some of the likely consequences, whilst Professor Hugh Pennington's report goes back in to the history of these failings."

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Other news
  • Holyrood's Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee has opened an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism and culture sectors. They have established an open-ended call for views. Committee convenor Joan McAlpine MSP said it was vital these industries were supported effectively so "they can come back and contribute to the economy once more". (The National)
  • Official figures show that over the past nine days an average of 1370 daily Covid-19 tests have been carried out in Scotland, well short of the Scottish Government's target of 3,500 tests a day by the end of April. The figures come after microbiologist professor Hugh Pennington criticised the Scottish Government at a Holyrood committee for putting insufficient attention on testing. (The Herald)
  • One-third of Scottish digital technology firms believe business opportunities will increase because of new demands arising from the Covid-19 crisis. A survey by industry body ScotlandIS found that 27 per cent of digi-tech firms say their workforce will increase by the end of the year, with 44 per cent forecasting no change in staffing. Around one-third have furloughed staff. (The Herald)
  • Education Secretary John Swinney has said there may be "competing priorities" over a decision to end lockdown. The Deputy First Minister said the Scottish Government is designing a new system to test public opinion on the issue. Swinney said that ultimately Ministers may have to make "the judgement of Solomon" over lockdown restrictions. (Holyrood)
  • Forty-one per cent of Scots are concerned about their income, according to a new Citizens Advice Scotland poll. 31 per cent are worried about paying bills like rent and electricity, 29 per cent are worried about keeping up with Council Tax payments, while 27 per cent are worried about making mortgage re-payments. (STV)
  • Human rights should be at the hear of post-Coronavirus budget decisions, a new report has found. The Scottish Human Rights Commission and Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland found that the government needed to acknowledge and address the disproportionate impact of the crisis on particular groups, including disabled people, women and those living in poverty. (Third Force News)
New on Source
Around and about the Scottish media
- Lesley Riddoch says the UK press has lost the plot in its criticism of Nicola Sturgeon (The National)

- Jamie Maxwell reviews a new book about US Presidential hopeful Joe Biden (Bella Caledonia)
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