Unpaid and invisible – care work and the welfare society

Petra Brylander, theatre manager at Malmö stadsteater, starts the seminar by reciting a scene from the play Ottar och Kärleken, written by Gunilla Thorgren (in the background).

Unpaid work is rately seen and is not valued by society. The vast majority of unpaid workers are women, which makes unpaid care work a burning equality issue discussed by Nordic researchers and politicians. How can we make unpaid work visible and ensure it is valued? This was the central issue for the participants.

“We must accept that people are competent in their own lives,” says Karen Sjørup, researcher at Roskilde University. Not only is she a researcher but she also has her own experience of home care, which has given her a completely different insight into care work. According to Sjørupm, a lot of care work is about coaching and an ability to manage feelings and emotions. In feminism research, a commonly used term is ‘the affective turn’. The carer must be able to respect the integrity and independence of the elderly person in a professional way. The relationship between carer and patient can be very complex, and many carers perhaps feel shame or anger over their situation.

Leena Eräsaari, professor at Jyväskylä University, has identified two major trends in care work in Finland: commercialisation, and a shift from institutional care to care in the home. But the challenge remains that many woman carry out care work. This work could be valued and made visible in a number of ways; for example, in Finland, a guaranteed base income has been discussed, or that children that take care of elderly parents could inherit more.

Barbro Sundback, social democrat and member of the Åland Parliament, is also critical of the Scandinavian welfare system. She is particularly critical of the ‘welfare oligarchs’, particularly men who run large care enterprises that make large profits from care work. Instead, we need to build a more sustainable society system, which does not exploit human and natural resources to the extent that occurs today.

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