Human rights commissioner calls for national strategy on care

Kathleen Lynch says pandemic has reorientated our thinking on what is important in life

The right to be cared for, and to care properly for ourselves and others, will be among the most important social-justice issues – particularly for women – as we emerge from the pandemic, says human rights commissioner Kathleen Lynch.

She is calling for a national strategy on care and care work, starting with a Citizen’s Assembly on care.

Ms Lynch, professor emerita of equality studies at UCD and member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, says the demands of capitalism – the way it "hardwires" us to "compete" with each other, and its "devaluation and denigration of care work" remain among the greatest obstacles to a just society.

She hopes her just-published book, Care and Capitalism, “might start a debate about the importance of care and relationships” to a just society. She believes it is timely given the reorientation many of us have had in our thinking over the last two years about what is important in our lives.

“Just look at how a lot of people don’t want to do the commute anymore because it gives them two hours more each day. What do they want that time for? To care. To care for themselves, to go for a walk rather than be on the bus, train or driving, but also to not be stressed trying to do the hard work of care when they come home from work.”

Quality childcare

She says the importance of quality childcare, older-people’s care, self-care, as well as care for pets, neighbours and communities were revealed as central concerns in most people’s lives during the pandemic. And “you cannot do care fast”. People need time to care, and time has been revealed as “scarcer than money” for many, says Ms Lynch.

A refocusing of society’s attention to the centrality of care, and time to do, will require “an enormous mind shift”. It will not come naturally to “those in positions of power” and will have to be fought for.

The devaluing of care work, done by-and-large by women, has a centuries-long history, she says.

“Care work was regarded as coming ‘naturally’ to women, meaning they did not need to be supported or resourced to do it. Most of our whole understanding of the human person comes from a western intellectual tradition that is very male dominated.

“It idolises independence though we are never fully independent. It glorifies dominating and controlling the natural world with all the destruction that this entails.”

Covid

None of this way of thinking is inevitable, she argues, and Covid has gone some way to undermine it.

She is calling for political action. “We need national strategy on care, a Citizens’ Assembly on care. There needs to be something like the education convention in 1994 which brought about huge changes in education.

“It’s about having new politics, putting care on an equal footing with business, and recognising that care is hard, hard, essential work.”

Care and Capitalism, published by Polity Books, will be launched on March 30th.