So the headlines blazing across the Sunday Papers was the story of how the Coalition intend to ‘make’ benefit claimants do unpaid work for a specific period or risk losing their benefits. At first glance it seems a good idea, being out work takes it toll on your mental state, so why not do some unpaid work whilst looking ? Firstly, job hunting takes time, the internet searches, the rehashing of the C.V and even the time to travel to employment agencies (as my favourite champagne socialist Polly Toynbee found out and expressed in Hard Work). Secondly, most people already do unpaid work, its called voluntary work which, if you’re lucky enough not to had to trudge to the dole before, you have to declare as part of your job hunting plan, but you’re not allowed to do ‘too much’ voluntary work nor state that you have made a fixed time commitment less it stop you from landing a ‘proper’ paid job. So , if the government makes you do unpaid work because you are guilty of the crime to be out of work in the middle of double dip recession what gap are you filling? Why! the gap made by public spending cuts, think tank genius! The third sector is awash with recent graduates, the long and short term unemployed already, so I can only presume that the newly unemployed (fresh from the spending cuts, low level civil servants , librarians etc) are going to fill the gaping gaps left by the shrinking state. However, there is another kind of unpaid work done by nearly half of the planets population that the Coalition government never mention, a gap that is always filled due to social construction and that is the unpaid domestic labour provided by Women.
According to to a paper commissioned by the UN, the unaccounted economic activities performed by women include:-
- Cleaning, decoration and maintenance of the dwelling unit
- Preparation and serving of meals
- Care, training and instruction of children
- Care of sick,infirm or old
- Transportation of the household’.
Sound familiar? All that day to day stuff you do is worth nothing to the government and my argument is that it should be for several reasons. Firstly, these unaccounted activities are presumably unpaid because financial sustenance comes from a partner or the state, which as everyone knows is complete rubbish. Only the elite and upper middle classes can survive on one wage per household. Single mothers live on a pittance and even when in work often end up hovering just above the poverty line . Secondly we also have to factor in the concept that women’s work is a relic of the industrial revolution,- the Woman offers emotional and maternal support to the man who ‘is’ the wage slave ( the Women being a non economical unit). This concept is problematic now as Woman in this country have long been visible in the public sphere and now Woman finds she is a wage slave Herself but but still endures the double burden. This is nothing compared to our Sisters in developing countries but non-the-less, equal,sexist free Britain? Thirdly even if you don’t have children, Women are socially immersed into ideals of being this caring, nourishing being, via the media (domestic goddess that can whip up a four course meal in 10 minutes,drop everything for your friends, look out for your neighbours). Women have always been the volunteers that filled the gaps left by the state’s policies, the PTA’s that raise money for schools (mostly women), the coffee mornings for charity, Women activists that march and lobby at grassroots level , keeping your eye on that neighbour who you know is taking abuse from their ’other half’, saying hello and engaging in conversion with an elderly person who you know, probably hasn’t spoken to anyone all day. If I where to categorize our ‘unaccounted economic activities’ as paid work then the list would be this;Nanny,Counselor,Lobbyist,Community worker,Fund-raiser,Chauffeur, PR,Carer, Nutritionist, Personal shopper. All validated, trusted positions, economically viable but not so if the work is unpaid.If as the DaveCam puts it we are ‘all in this together’ then why is unpaid ‘domestic labour’ economically irrelevant in these days of the Big Society? We fill the gaps!
Did you notice that last week the fire service threatened to strike on bonfire night? The New Statesman posed the question is it an abuse of power? No actually its not, it strikes at the heart of the public’s fear of unsafety. So why is it that Womens strike day this year was largely ignored by the media? Well you know why,Women in the west are still seen as unpaid labour, economically irrelevant, whining when we have so called political rights.If we were were to strike, can you imagine the gap? This is what I say, mind the gap left by Women, the void is too vast to cross safely, society would as we see it would crumble. Women fill the void left by the shrinking state , unpaid work for women claimants creates a triple burden. Marx once wrote’ We stand on the shoulders of giants’ but that’s rubbish we all stand on the shoulders of women and society is taught that those strong shoulders are irrelevant because of a chromosome. MIND THE GAP!