In India, a developing country, we see that the care economy, which is characterised by care work, has been exponentially rising. In the past, we have observed that the state-involvement was almost negligible in the policy-making and strategies for care work specifically and generally. In recent times, with the voices of activists and unions emerging stronger, care work is being looked at by the government, and it is understood that the care economy in India demands increased state-involvement in its current policies.
What is care work?
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) talks about care work as “the exercises and relationships involved in achieving the physical, mental, and emotional necessities of kids and adults, old and young, physically weak and able-bodied.” In simple terms, care work is the work rendered by people, paid or unpaid, for the benefit of the wellbeing of the individuals, families, and communities. It includes tasks such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of children and the elderly, specially-abled individuals, and to provide emotional support. It is mostly women who bear the brunt of doing both their paid work and unpaid care work responsibilities to tend to their families. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) data, around 40% of the Indian population is involved in unpaid care work. An ILO report says that global demand for care work is expected to increase by 2030 (due to demographic transformation and rapid urbanisation),and investment in India’s care economy could generate 11 million employment, out of which 32.5 percent will be of women.
In present times, due to changing social dynamics, increased participation of women in the workforce, and ageing populations, the need for care work has increased very much. This World Health Day, let us discuss why increased state-involvement is crucial in India’s care work.
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The need for state-involvement in care economy
According to an Oxfam report, women in India spend ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. Women have to juggle between their paid work and unpaid care work more than men. The responsibility of care work falls majorly on women’s shoulders, who are not adequately compensated for their time and effort. The current Covid pandemic has exacerbated the need for care work, with increased demand for health care, child care, and elder care.
The lack of involvement of the state has led to low-paid and unregulated care work jobs. This provides no security to the ones involved in care work, and they are, therefore, often abused and neglected.
When it comes to the formal economy, care work has almost no recognition. Care work is not regulated by minimum wage laws or labour regulations. This makes them very vulnerable to extremely low pay and poor working conditions. A 2017 report by the International Labour Organization found that domestic workers in India earn only 38% of the average wage of other workers.
Benefits of state-involvement in care economy
The state needs to rigorously work towards shifting the responsibility of care work from individual households to the state to ensure that care work becomes an important aspect to be taken care of in the economy.
Job security and better working conditions can be obtained by the state’s involvement in policy-making and ensuring regulations. This will save a lot of individuals associated with care work from neglect and abuse. A well-regulated care work sector can provide much-needed employment opportunities for women, who are currently underrepresented in the formal workforce.
If working conditions and wages are regulated on the basis of adequacy, the receivers of care work will also receive better care due to increased motivation in the caregivers. Development of a comprehensive care work policy will take into account the needs of all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status or location.
Challenges in implementing state-involvement in care work
The state has to consider policy-making and regulations of the care work economy long-term so that benefits can be realised. The implementation of these policies will require funding, resources, and dedication. The care economy is highly fragmented between individual caregivers, NGOs, and the government. These factors need to be brought together as a whole to make the venture fruitful for care work individuals.
There is a lack of reliable data on care work in India, making it difficult to develop effective policies. The government will need to invest in data collection and analysis to ensure that policies are evidence-based and effective. Cultural and social norms will have to be dismantled as care work being the sole responsibility of women, so that care work becomes a social responsibility.
Increased state involvement in care work is crucial for India’s economic and social development. It can lead to better working conditions for care workers, improved quality of care for those who need it, and provide much-needed employment opportunities for women. However, the implementation of state involvement in care work will require significant investment and resources from the government, as well as a shift in societal attitudes towards care work.
Nevertheless, the benefits of state involvement in care work far outweigh the challenges, and the government must take steps to ensure that care work is recognised as a critical component of the economy. These are difficult steps, and will need some dedication, but if we are in it together, it is not impossible to achieve.
Reference: Explained: Why India’s ‘Care Economy’ Demand Increased State-Involvement In Its Current Policies, India Times, May 10 (2022)
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