The systemic undervaluing of care work is “inextricably linked” to the fact that it is overwhelmingly carried out by women, according to a new report.

Care work, paid or unpaid, is viewed as low skilled despite being a”mentally and physically exhausting and complex task”.

This is partly explained, the report suggests, by long-standing social norms which often define care as a role primarily undertaken by women and experts say the pandemic has re-inforced these messages.

Experts say the unequal distribution of care, as well as the under-valuing of it, impacts women throughout their lives, perpetuating gender and economic inequalities and undermining their health and wellbeing.

It limits their economic prosperity and fuels gender gaps in employment and wages because female carers have less time to pursue paid work and career progression.

“This makes them more likely to have part-time or precarious work, earn less, and to live in poverty as they get older” said the report, which was released by the University of the West of Scotland and Oxfam to coincide with Carers Rights Day.

One paid care worker who was interviewed for the report said many were living in poverty in debt and said: “The low pay makes it difficult for them to escape from these situations”.

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UK data from before the pandemic shows that women carried out an average of 60% more unpaid care work than men and during Covid, care disproportionately fell to women.

It comes amid warnings from Scottish care leaders that the sector is facing a very difficult winter.

Those involved in the research say Scotland has the chance to set a ground-breaking international example by making a key policy change.

It highlights that none of the Scottish Government’s 11 National Outcomes, which measure progress in areas such as education and health, are focussed on care, carers or care workers. 

HeraldScotland:

The report, which involved a number of organisations including Scottish Care and One Parent Families, has created a blueprint for a new one with a set of indicators to measure progress made.

It suggests that one ‘indicator’ should measure how care work affects life-time earnings.

This could include looking at the cost of care as a percentage of household income and the length and level of maternity and paternity financial support.

READ MORE: Unpaid carer allowance should be doubled, says MSP

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The current winter crisis facing Scotland’s care sector clearly requires immediate political intervention, but it also requires long-term vision, strategy and leadership if Ministers are to avoid simply lurching from one crisis to another while leaving those delivering care to continue to pay the price. 

“The fundamental problem is that people in Scotland who care for others, whether paid or unpaid, and whether for adults or children, have been undervalued and under rewarded for far too long. 

“For too many people that results in personal and economic costs, including poverty. This systemic undervaluing of care is inextricably linked to the fact that care work is overwhelmingly carried out by women.

“Scotland has a chance to show that it doesn’t need to be like this while setting a ground-breaking international example.”

READ MORE: Pandemic pushing young carers further into poverty 

Social Care Minister Kevin Stewart said: “We’re committed to the creation of the National Care Service and ending the postcode lottery in the provision of care in Scotland and the views and experiences of those in receipt of care and support, unpaid carers and care workers, will be central to the development and delivery.

“We’re committed to improving the experience of the social care workforce, including improving fair work that we know is crucial to addressing long standing recruitment issues.

“Last month, as part of a total package of £300 million of investment, we committed to provide additional funding of up to £48 million to uplift the hourly rate for social care workers which will take pay from at least £9.50 an hour to at least £10.02 an hour from next month. 

"This significant increase recognises our workforce’s incredible contribution and is a significant step towards delivering our commitment to improve Fair Work in social care."