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The Future of Work Podcast

Episode 17
The care economy

Why investing in care is about equality

8 March 2022

Effective and comprehensive care systems not only support fundamental rights and human dignity, they also help people maximise their potential and their contribution to economies and societies. However, gaps in care systems – which were exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic – can undermine gender equality and make it more difficult for those with disabilities to find work, so removing talent and skills from the workforce.

A new ILO report on care at work analyses the current state of care services in 185 countries and makes a strong case for increasing investment in the sector.



Hello and welcome to this edition of the ILO's Future of Work podcast.

I'm Sophy Fisher.

The COVID pandemic has thrown a spotlight on our care systems and exposed many gaps.

These failings are not just a question of rights or human dignity,

they also affect the world of work, because a lack of care means

people aren't able to work to their full potential,

and may even have to leave employment temporarily or permanently.

This is not just bad for workers and their dependents,

it's bad for businesses, and our societies and economies overall.

The ILO has just released a new report looking at these issues

and proposing suggestions for improving care systems and services.

The report is called “Care at work: Investing in care leave and services

for a more gender equal world of work”.

Joining me now to discuss the findings is Emanuela Pozzan,

who is a senior specialist, gender equality,

and non-discrimination at the ILO.

Emanuela is one of the team behind the report.

Emanuela, welcome to the Future of Work podcast,

and thanks so much for joining us.

-Hi, Sophy. -Hi.

Let me start off by asking.

It's a long report, so what stands out in it for you?

Thank you, Sophy, for this question.

It's a great pleasure for me to be part of this podcast.

What we did was really to survey and take stock of the care policies,

in particular, maternity protection, paternity, parental leave policies,

policies relating to health protection for pregnant and nursing women,

breastfeeding at work, and also services childcare

and long-term care services. We did this for 185 countries.

We can now say where we are in terms of such policies, and certainly,

we can say that there has been some progress,

but there is still a long way to go.

Mind you that as you said these care policies are essential

for all societies and economies to thrive.

Just to give you a flavor, if we look at maternity leave,

for instance, which is an essential leave policy,

maternity leave is actually longer, and it's actually better paid.

In this past 10 years, since 2011, we can say that

there have been some improvements.

We have 120 countries where the duration of maternity leave is at least 14 weeks,

according to the ILO Convention on Maternity Protection,

No. 183.

We also have 52 countries that have been meeting

and exceeding the ILO standard of 18 weeks of maternity protection

as per the recommendation.

Overall, we can say that this is good, but we still have three countries

where maternity leave is unpaid or not provided, and, globally,

we have 649 million women that still have

inadequate maternity protection or no protection at all,

because they live in 82 countries where maternity leave

is actually shorter than 14 weeks, or is paid below the two-thirds

of previous earning, or is actually only paid by the employers

instead of social protection.

On maternity protection, there is much, much more to say,

but I would say that at the current pace, it will take at least 46 more years

to achieve minimum maternity leave rights in the 185 countries

that we have analyzed.

Let me just jump in here.

Explain to our listeners, why is maternity leave

and paid maternity leave so important?

Certainly, this is a policy that has a lot of benefits.

It is essential to ensure the health of the mother

and the health of the newborn.

Here, it's a right of women to be entitled to maternity protection.

It's also right for the safety and the well-being of the child.

Maternity protection allows mothers to recover from pregnancy.

It also allows mothers to readjust to a new life.

It's extremely important to have time and time-off to take care of children,

but this time needs to be paid because otherwise

it would be extremely difficult for mothers to take care of their children.

Talking about mothers and going back to what I was saying before,

still 46 years to achieve minimum maternity leave rights.

We are talking of generations of women, so this is extremely important to consider.

When we were talking about just a minute ago

the benefits of maternity, the report is very clear

that there is something rising, which is paternity leave.

Paternity leave is also something that can really complement maternity

and the benefits of maternity leave.

We have seen in this report how paternity leave is on the rise,

and this is a very positive development in terms of increasing recognition

of men's care rights and responsibility, and also the role that men play

in the well-being of the child.

We see that globally, 115 countries offer a right to paternity leave.

In the last 10 years, 33 new countries have introduced paternity leave.

Now, it's not perfect, because we still have 1.26 billion men,

that live in countries that have no entitlements

to paternity leave.

A very long way to go.

As well, if from one side, maternity is extremely important

for the health, for the well-being of the mother

of the child for readjusting to a new life, et cetera,

paternity leave is also very important.

I noticed one thing you said in the report.

It's terribly encouraging that there is more paternity leave

available in more countries.

The report says that the take-up rate of paternity leave is low.

Did you come to any conclusions as to why that might be?

Yes, indeed.

The take-up is still very low, and there are reasons for this.

One of the main reason is that paternity

is still unpaid or paid very low

in the countries that offer paternity leave.

If this benefit is not actually adequately paid,

of course, there is no incentive in taking up paternity leave.

This is the first thing that this type of policies,

they have to be well designed to really make sure

that people benefit from them.

The other aspect is also very much related to stigma,

and to old-fashioned way of looking at the role of men

in this whole business of children raising.

There's still this idea that if you take paternity leave,

you're less of a man, and your masculinity is compromised,

et cetera.

In reality, these are also aspects and mindsets that are changing.

There's a lot of awareness-raising that is taking place in that regard.

The fact that, for instance, in Europe, it is mandatory for fathers

to take at least 15 days of paternity leave.

It is changing the mindset.

I think that it is a matter of time.

Countries are moving in that direction.

Even if it's going to take time, paternity leave really

is a transformative policy because it can change mindsets,

and it can redistribute unpaid care work that has always been

on the shoulders of women.

Certainly, an important one.


Let's look at a couple of the other forms of care and leave that you looked at,

particularly, other forms of childcare, and also long-term and age-related care.

Childcare services, they yield plenty of benefits as well

because they promote child development. They create jobs.

They reduce parents and paid care work, and they promote women's employment

and income over the life course.

Childcare is extremely important but unfortunately,

only 57 out of 178 countries that we analyzed have

a statutory provision of pre-primary school for children

aged zero to two years.

In only 21 countries, this is framed as a universal right.

You see here we are talking of still very limited access to free

and affordable childcare services, which is only available for one intent,

potential parents across the world.

This childcare, it is important to look at what we were discussing before,

meaning maternity, paternity.

There is also parental leave and other leave policies related

to the birth of a child and childcare services.

Because in many countries you actually have an important gap

between the time that these policies

allow parents to be out of work

to take care of their children

and when these childcare services start.

If we look at on average, there is a gap of almost 4.2 years

globally between, as I said, the moment at which the leave entitlement,

so maternity, paternity, parental come to an end,

and the age at which children can make use of childcare.

This is what we call for the first time in the report and for the first time

it was calculated, the global childcare policy gap.

Of course, it varies.

The length is different in many countries, but in all countries

and all this data is actually available.

If you don't have this continuum,

and you have a global childcare policy gap,

that's when women, in particular,

but also men would actually either opt

for suboptimal arrangements, like working arrangements.

For instance, they would go to part time or they would go in the informal economy

to have more flexibility, or they would drop out

of the world of work.

We have seen this very, very clearly with COVID, because the ILO and UN Women

have just estimated that in 2020, over 2 million mothers left the labor force

because of job losses in female-dominated sectors,

and because of the pressure of juggling work and family,

since schools and childcare facilities were closed.

The correlation is very, very strong.

Right. In other words, what you're saying is that,

if I understand you correctly,

better care, and, in fact, I think what the report refers to

as a continuum of care, more joined up care,

is actually good for the economy because it keeps women in the workforce.

It keeps their skills being used for society and the economy,

which, of course, keeps the government's tax revenues up,

which allows it to fund care more effectively.

Absolutely. You summarize it very well.

It's a continuum of care that really has the potentials

to have societies and economies to be healthy, to be wealthy,

and to be productive, and to continue to invest

in their own human capital.

Okay. Going on with that continuum of care idea,

you also looked at long-term

and age-related care, which is often, to be honest,

the poor relation of care policies, and people who look at care,

what happens to the elderly, and what happens to people

who just need a little bit more help in their lives perhaps

because they're differently abled or whatever.

Tell us what you find on that.

Yes, by long term-care services, we actually mean residential care,

community day services, and in-home care are certainly crucial

to ensure the right of a healthy aging and dignity for older persons,

but also the right to independent living for those people who have disabilities.

Unfortunately, these are the services that remain inaccessible or inadequate

to the great majority of those who need them,

putting them and their families at risk of income poverty

and financial hardship.

According to our report, only 89 countries grant public long-term care services

for older persons in their laws, and in only 29 of these countries,

these services are a universal right.

Now this is certainly an area that requires a lot of thinking,

a lot of investments, but the truth is that the society is aging.

Many societies are aging, and this is certainly an area

that is overlooked by many countries, and that requires more attention.

Now, the report also says that in the region of 300 million jobs

could be created in the care sector, if we invest enough

to meet these missing care needs to fill these gaps,

can you break that figure down for us a bit and tell us a little about the costs?

With this report, we estimated that investing

in care policies and services could generate,

as you said, up to 300 million jobs by 2035.

These jobs would actually be driven by 96 million direct jobs in childcare.

We would be creating jobs in those services that are much needed,

as well as 136 million jobs in long-term care as well in the area

where a lot of attention is needed, and 67 million jobs in non-care sectors.

Of course, this has a cost as well as closing these large policy gaps

would require progressive and sustainable annual investment,

and the report estimates

of US $5.4 trillion by 2035.

Of course, there would be tax revenues from increased earnings and employment,

because employment would also rise.

This would have producing the funding requirement

to 3.2% of the GDP in 2035.

It's very important to look at this as an opportunity.

Lots of people ask why care systems have been neglected

and unfunded in many countries.

One of the main reasons is that care is made by humans.

All these jobs, care is made by humans, and the largest expenditure of care

are actually the salaries of the care workers.

These care workers are often identified as current expenditures.

They're not necessarily seen by governments as an investment,

such as building infrastructure or roads, but in reality,

by paying salaries of care workers.

Investing in care work means also building the human capital

as we were saying before, and therefore, building the future productivity,

the future innovation.

It's all connected.

It's back to your continuum of care.

Now the other thing is that in recent years,

it has been hard to get people to take up care jobs,

because they've been poorly paid, they're socially undervalued,

and they're hard both physically and mentally.

Is some of the readjustment going to have to come in how we socially

and economically value this kind of work?


We have seen it very well with the pandemic.

Care work is actually tough work.

It's work that requires skills.

It's not work that anybody can do.

You need to be trained. You need to be a professional.

Investments need to go into professionalizing these jobs,

and especially valuing these jobs.

Because as you said, they're very often underpaid,

and they're very often performed under very poor working conditions.

Care workers are often exposed to the gender wage gap.

They're often exposed to violence and harassment at work.

It is very important when we talk also about investments

to think about improving the working conditions.

If the sector becomes more professionalized,

if the sector becomes more valued, then there will be more interest

in more women and men to take up these jobs.

We're almost out of time, but let me just ask you one more question,

which is that right now, governments are facing enormous bills,

societies are, from COVID, from the economic downturn,

from a possible need for increases in spending in other areas.

What would you say to them to persuade them

that they also need to spend more on care?

Well, Sophy, I truly hope that our governments

have learned something from the COVID-19 pandemic

and the global crisis that we all witnessed.

Care policies and care services in all their different forms

are essential for the economies and for the societies to progress.

They are essential for gender equality.

Investing in care actually means a very concrete generation of new jobs.

It means increasing productivity.

It means responding to changes in demographic trends.

It means meeting the expectations of the new generations

who want to live in a world that is much more equal.

I think there's a lot to gain

from investing in care

and designing good care policies and providing good care services.

Emanuela Pozzan, many thanks for that, and for joining us here today

on the Future of Work podcast.

If you want to know more about the report, Care at Work,

you can find links on the webpage of this podcast, on the ILO website,

or directly by the website itself.

That's it for today, so please join us again soon

for another edition of this podcast.

For now, goodbye.