3 million women are ‘forced’ into providing unpaid care, says the headline in Home Care Insight magazine. (And 300,000 men.) It quotes a report saying that this means cooking, shopping, and doing other household chores for family members. Researchers said the figures have risen by 500,000 in the past year because of the lack of social carers.
But the things the report mentions are ways women have always helped, without feeling ‘forced’. For eons, in a zillion traditional ways. they have looked after their children and parents and others. To most, it comes naturally.
Usually they do it as well as holding down a job until caring demands mean they have to give it up – and lose their salaries. By then the need for their help has become larger and personal, and includes dressing, bathing, toileting and more.
Then they become like Atlas, with the world of the one they are caring for on their shoulders. They are tagged ‘informal caregivers’, responsible for their loved ones’ physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. They don’t get support from Social Services because there aren’t enough carers in the system and there’s not enough money to pay for them. There’s a huge gap between resources and need.
So hail our modest heroes! (women and men). Stepping in are thousands, probably tens of thousands of church members. Around 200 pastoral community workers came to learn more about the support that makes the most difference at meetings in the Diocese of Guildford last month. Looking around I thought how they are the salt of the earth, and to throw in another metaphor – worth their weight in gold. They are mostly retired people wanting to keep playing their part in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Heaven touches earth when a person’s spirit is lit.
Most have no idea of how much they light up the spirits of the person they help. Having a chat, cutting the grass, bringing over a freshly baked cake, or helping with the shopping, tells them that they matter. It’s so important that Jesus mentioned it Himself. You can read what he said in Matthew’s Gospel, verse 40.
For centuries the role of wives and mothers was to be the tent-pole that held up the whole family edifice, with the husband the covering. Then governments discovered that when women went out to work their countries were wealthier, with more tax revenue going to the Exchequer. The government subsidizes child care so that mothers can work. But they still have to be the tent pole holding everything up including caring for older relatives and for children . They’re being called the sandwich generation, with social care a kind of flimsy sticking plaster.
Part of the answer could be to pay the equivalent of their lost salaries to women – and men – who’ve been forced to give up their job. At least then they’d be able to pay for help with the housework and the garden.
But right now, my prayers are with the thousands of church members who are doing what they can to help, and who are showing family caregivers that they matter to them, and to God.