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International Women’s Day Panel – Caring Economy: what value do we place on care?

Panellists all sitting in a row for a debate

By Elisa Monje-Jelfs

One of the panel debates which took place during Bristol Women’s Voice International Women’s Day Celebration on 2nd March at the City Hall in Bristol was “Caring Economy: what value do we place on care?”.

This panel, chaired by Bristol Women’s Voice director Katy Taylor, aimed to discuss and debate what changes need to happen in Bristol to ensure better investment in the caring economy for carers, care workers and those who may be cared for.

This panel was a key part of our Value the Caring Economy Campaign, which we are running alongside nine other Bristol-based organisations calling for greater investment in the caring economy. Caring is fundamental to our society’s infrastructure and our communities’ foundation.

If we continue to undervalue caring as the core of our societal well-being, we will continue to see the breakdown of society.

The politicians who participated were Dan Norris (West of England Combined Authority), Ellie King (Labour Party), Lorraine Francis (Green Party), and Rose Hulse (Conservative Party). Jos Clark from the Liberal Democrat Party was invited but were not present on the day.

Amongst the panellists were also experts within the care sector: Annabel Thomas MacGregor (Raised in Bristol), Annedeloris Chacon (Bristol Black Carers) and Sophie Chester-Glyn (CoProduce Care).

The West of England Combined Authority’s progress update

Dan Norris, Regional Mayor for the West of England who has put himself forward to be Labour’s candidate at the General Election, kicked off the debate by giving an update on the progress made by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) since he pledged the authority’s support to the Caring Economy 12 months ago. The Regional Mayor spoke about WECA’s launch of the Health & Care Bootcamp, a scheme aiming to train up unskilled people and a ‘pathway to apprenticeship skills’ within the care sector. Norris stated that such schemes are central as ‘it’s in the interest of everybody to have a care system that provides for society as well as the individuals within the care sector’.

Following Norris’s update, the other politicians had two minutes to speak in response to a presentation by a specialist provider on the particular challenges faced by people in one of three key areas: carers, care workers, and those who may be cared for.

The Caring Economy taken for granted

Annedeloris Chacon, CEO of Bristol Black Carers, stated that ‘the caring economy has not been valued at all [and that it is] taken for granted’.

In response to this, Ellie King (Labour Party) agreed that ‘adult social care needs full reform’ to include the ‘right to short breaks [and] flexible hours’. King stated the priorities are a reformation of the tax system, involving better-managed taxes rather than tax cuts, and an investment in early year intervention workers.

Rose Hulse (Conservative Party) argued that the driving force for change lies in the private sector. In relation to care inequalities, Hulse pointed to a need to hold accountable those who can afford private care services for the NHS services to be available to those who need them.
In response to Hulse, Lorraine Francis (Green Party) countered such value of the private sector, stating that such a focus on business pulls away from the crux of the issue: investing in the care services.

“Early Years is serious education”

Annabel Thomas MacGregor , from Raised in Bristol, made a statement on the importance of investment in the Early Years sector; ‘Early Years in not only care but also really serious education’ and Sophie Chester-Glynn pointed to the insufficient funding of care provisioners – with tenders asking for more services for less funding, leading to issues in the care provided.

The panel was infused with political debate, particularly between the Conservative and Green representatives.

A central element of the debate were the vital statements and questions made by audience members which evidenced the lived-experienced impacts which undervaluing care in our societies has on individuals, their families and their social, economic & physical wellbeing.

One member of the audience stated: “The Caring Economy is a driver of a healthy economy and society. Investing in it is a moral choice.”

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