Ed Davey's Celebration Of Fatherhood Is Unusual In Politics We Are All Better Off When Men Do More Of The Caring

Author: Anna Tarrant

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey's spotlight on unpaid care and male caregiving has never been more necessary. In addition to photo ops at theme parks and falling into lakes, Davey has put out a more serious party election broadcast featuring his personal story of caring for his teenage son John, who is disabled.

Carers hold communities and families together at great personal, emotional and financial cost, yet their contributions are often invisible to, and unrecognised by, others. In addition to making carers more visible by highlighting his story, Davey has pledged that the Lib Dems would address the unmet financial and support needs of the country's millions of unpaid carers.

This authentic and celebratory image of male caregiving is, sadly, unusual in politics. It sets Davey apart from the other main party leaders in this campaign, and is a refreshing change to politicians posing in highly masculinised images – such as wearing hard hats and hi-vis jackets on construction sites.

Showing and celebrating that men care – and presenting positive public images of what men do for family – is vital to wider societal wellbeing and health. My research shows that when men can invest more time and energy in family life, this has benefits for them, for mothers and for children.

The Lib Dems have pledged to be the“voice of carers”, and are acknowledging that male care should be part of this conversation. The social care system in the UK is collapsing and becoming more expensive, leaving millions unable to access the care they need. This means that many more people have taken on unpaid caring responsibilities without adequate support.

Read more: Why the UK really does need a clear plan to fix adult social care

Support for male caregiving is also important for equality between genders and generations. There have been positive shifts over time in gendered attitudes around the roles and responsibilities of men and women. But much of the western world still associates unpaid care labour with women and employment with men.

These more traditional, historically persistent associations risk spilling into problematic assumptions that men don't take on caring responsibilities, or even that they are uniformly uncaring as a group.

This rather unhelpful view does two things. First, it obscures the diverse ways that many men engage in caregiving in their day-to-day lives. And second, it contributes to stubborn work-care inequalities between men and women. Women are still more likely to carry the triple burden of domestic work, care work and paid employment.

Policy promises for carers

Debates about the imbalance between work and care for women and men often emphasise the barriers (and potential solutions) to women's participation in the labour market. Women want more flexible work policies – and available, accessible and affordable childcare to be able to work, as well as parent. Men and boys would benefit from these changes too, particularly for men pursuing a better work-life balance.

Men want more time with family and to be more involved in their children's lives. But this is often restricted by the shadow of outdated cultural views about gender roles, the fatherhood penalty in workplaces (the bias men experience in seeking part-time or flexible roles), and ungenerous parental leave for male carers.

There is evidence that father-focused policies such as extended paternity leave could sway voters. Yet these remain largely ignored by the main political parties.

The Lib Dems have pledged to immediately increase the Carer's Allowance from £81.90 to £101.90 per week. This, Davey, said, would boost the incomes of family carers by £1,040 a year.

Read more: Lib Dem proposals take social care reform seriously – but doubts remain over how they'd pay for it

This is partly a response to the overpayment scandal . Thousands of carers have been inadvertently overpaid their carers allowance, and the government is now requiring them to pay this back, pushing many into debt.

Men have caring responsibilities too. fizkes/Shutterstock

For low-income families and those caring for family members with disabilities, there are also welcome pledges in the Lib Dem manifesto to address mental health and special educational needs and disabilities support, and provisions to scrap the two-child benefit limit and bedroom tax – both of which reduce financial support to carers.

In highlighting the experiences and needs of family carers, the Lib Dems are distinctively acknowledging that being able to care, supported by an effective infrastructure and welfare system, is sorely needed to fix the current care crisis .

So far, the two main parties have continued to express caution in their election campaigns over benefits changes for families, and there has been limited attention to the costs of social care .

So, as someone who researches fatherhood, it is refreshing to see a public celebration of male caregiving by a political figure, matched with policy intentions. Caring is a core function of human life and experience, not to mention the economy. Questions about who cares, how we care, and how care is funded are crucial for any new government to answer.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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