Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment, Marsha Caddle, has outlined Government’s policy initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic to support the care economy but suggests that more needs to be done to address paid and unpaid care work.
Minister Caddle, along with Regional Director Middle East Department, World Bank, Saroj Jha and Executive Director Uganda Women’s Network, Rita Aciro Lakor were panelists today in the “Investing in the Care Economy to Build Resilient and Inclusive Societies” virtual meeting, part of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings 2021.
In explaining the care economy, the Minister said this referred to the productive and the reproductive work of providing the inputs necessary for all economies and societies to thrive.
Ms. Caddle told the panel that care economy work – the work of caring for children, the elderly, the sick and others – happened both in the household economy and in the formal market, including the public and private sectors and the third or NGO sector, and without it, there would be no labour or human capital for the economy to function.
She acknowledged that Barbados had a long history of supporting women’s economic empowerment but stressed that more needed to be done.
Referring to Government’s pandemic response, the Economic Affairs Minister shared that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Government was forced to invest more in providing care in the household.
She stated: “We realised quickly, that as an economic policy response, Government had to invest in care. So, what we did, we set aside resources in our annual estimates for bringing in people to work in the formal market to support… care of the elderly, and to support care in the community.
“These are people who are contracted by the State given that we had a 2:1 ratio as we are a tourism-based economy…of women being separated from work in the tourism sector, recalling that this sector employs up to 40 per cent work of the labour force in Barbados. Women were at home, children were at home and women had to turn a lot of their care not just to the elderly, but also to children and their education.”
The Economic Affairs and Investment Minister proffered that discussions on the care economy must also focus on strengthening the social protection systems.
She informed the panelists that Government had invested more in social protection through cash transfers to ensure that care in households could continue and that it was adequately supported.
Ms. Caddle shared that Government was discussing the introduction of paternity leave and considering broadening the focus to parental leave, which could be shared between mothers and fathers as they decide, to allow “families to take decisions about how they share that responsibility rather than prescribing how families would choose to do that, and that is a conversation we are having”.
The Economic Affairs and Investment Minister also touched on the role of technology in supporting the care economy.
She disclosed that a digital national identification card was being developed that could eventually facilitate state-supported cash transfers and transfers between custodial and non-custodial parents regarding the payment of child maintenance and eliminating the time spent waiting in long lines to receive this necessary support.
She added: “If we can digitise that [maintenance payments], then that frees up women’s time for work in the formal labour market, and it has a different implication for the family dynamic. So, that is something that we are also moving towards.”
When asked by the moderator Lan Mercado, the Director of Feminist Futures at Oxfam: How one could shift thinking on economic policy that care work was not an expense but a means for economic stimulus, Minister Caddle replied: “Investing in the care economy is exactly that…it is an investment.
This is something that several of us as development economists tried to explain when we were doing the work of making visible the household sector as an economic sector, along with the private and the public sectors.”
She continued: “Before, we used to think of the household as only consumers of state support…. What we know now, is investing in care work, is the most important investment that you can make. Investment in the education sector is the most important investment that you can make and it is not just the amount of the investment…
“I think we require a complete revamping of how we educate our young people together to start to understand these power relations of gender to ensure that it is integrated into the way we teach. So, all these need to be seen as productive investments.…”
The Minister said that health, education and care must be seen as productive sectors whose returns would be seen far into the future.