The pandemic has exposed how our social infrastructure underpins our physical, social, psychological, and economic health. This care economy is critical to our survival during the pandemic and will be critical to our emergence from the pandemic. The pandemic has revealed that a more resilient future requires transformational change, not just a return to ‘normal.’ Future budgets and public policies of all governments must address these core principles:
- Care, both paid and unpaid, is a fundamental component of our basic infrastructure. Paid care in health and education alone is a key engine of the economy, generating at least 12% of GDP and21% of jobs. A well-functioning care economy is key to the functioning of all the other parts of the economy.
- A care economy includes those who need and those who provide care, both paid and unpaid, and recognizes that our care needs and care provision vary throughout life.
- Care is skilled work that requires ongoing skills development, appropriate compensation, and adequate supports. The conditions of work are the conditions of care.
- A care economy includes the entire range of health and education services, including child-and elder-care. It also includes other social infrastructure such as employment insurance, labour standards and their enforcement, immigration policies, and paid sick leave.
- A care economy requires public investment in public services to ensure equitable access to quality care. Public spending on social infrastructure is as critically important as is building and maintaining our physical infrastructure.
- A care economy promotes inclusion when its design is rooted in a feminist, intersectional, anti-colonial, and anti-racist approach.
These principles run counter to many of the assumptions framing traditional economic thought. But we challenge those assumptions, including the position that the care economy is too expensive for major investments from the public purse. We already pay for social infrastructure as individuals, but with little or no control over quality, availability, and quantity of care. Canada’s public spending on social programs is inadequate and significantly below the average of other high-income countries, even that of the U.S.
We also challenge the assumption that expenditures on care are a cost to the public purse. Rather, these are investments that stimulate the economy and safeguard our health in ways that allow us to maximize our human potential while generating higher public revenues.
We must not lose sight of the lessons learned from the pandemic. All budgets and policymaking should be based on these principles – at all levels of government. The federal government can and must lead the way by providing funding that is unequivocally conditional on meeting standards for decent work and for care, for all residents of Canada. Just as we need a ‘green pivot’, we need to pivot and reframe the provision of care in our society.