Paid care: now and in the future

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Paid care, notably of children, the elderly, and people with a disability has been increasing in Australia, and is likely to continue to do so. This is due to a combination of demographic factors such as the aging population and the extended lifespan of people with a disability, and shifts in the extent to which families are currently able to provide unpaid caring as women (as the traditional unpaid carers) have moved into the paid labour force. Responses to the expansion of paid care vary. Some express doubts that paid care can provide the depth of social connection and sustenance that unpaid care expresses, or wonder how best to arrange paid care to ensure quality. Others are concerned about how an adequate supply of caring labour can be assured. While some see a looming “crisis” in caring, there are mitigating factors. Declining fertility rates may decrease societal requirements for childcare, and the relatively large size of the casualised labour market could actually increase the capacity for unpaid caring. In addition, the growth in paid care work itself draws upon the same demographic group as unpaid care work, creating linkages and potential conflicts between the two groups. How paying for care affects its nature and quality, how it is delivered, by whom, for what kinds of rewards and in what circumstances (e.g., the organizational, industrial and regulatory framework) are central questions for this workshop.

These are issues ideally suited to an Academy of Social Sciences workshop. They are best dealt with from the variety of disciplinary points of view that the social sciences offer. This workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to critically reflect on paid care as it is, and as it may become, in Australia. For the purposes of this workshop, we take care to be the provision of assistance in everyday living to those taken to be unable to maintain full responsibility for their own needs. Broadly, this is in line with the notion of ‘social care’ now so commonly used in UK social policy discussion.

Building upon research conducted both internationally and in Australia we will explore the meaning of paid care in Australia. In particular, there will be a focus on what happens to the care relationship when pay is involved. While the care relationship is principally between the carer and a ‘client’ (a term that already signifies one aspect of the care relationship) several other actors influence it: a client might have several paid carers and could combine these with unpaid carers all of whom need to negotiate their roles and responsibilities with each other as well as the emotional relationship to the client (and maybe each other); paid carers usually work in an institutionalized or organizational setting that may well influence the care relationship; and within these care relationships there exist multiple relations of power and (inter)dependency that impact upon the capacity to provide ‘quality’ care. All of these issues affect the experience of care for those being cared for – the ‘clients’ of care service providers. The broader context within which these care relationships occur is, of course, political. In Australia, paid care provision is a growing part of the welfare budget in some areas (e.g., aging), and there are important issues about whether its provision is changing significant characteristics of welfare provision, and how provision is actually organized. The question here is how paid care provision is being integrated into the welfare state. Our aim is to illuminate these issues and examine the connections between them.

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