Creating a care and compassion economy

Within three days we will know who the new First Minister of Scotland will be and I am sure we will all be pleased for a degree of settled reality after what has felt to be quite a few turbulent weeks.  I have used this blog in the last few weeks to reflect on some of the priorities for the social care sector and to identify the critical needs of the care home, homecare, housing support and day services sector in Scotland, not least for our older citizens. I have attempted to articulate the urgent need for our incoming leader to address the critical issues of workforce terms and conditions and to be blunt the near collapse of many social care providers regardless of whether or not they are a charity, private organisation nor employee-owned organisation.

In the last few days, the candidates have been talking a lot more about their ideas for the economy. Clearly what they say on this matter has huge import for our ability as a nation to both prioritise and afford the sort of urgent reforms that I have argued for long are needed in the social care and health space.

One of the phrases that has been much used is the idea of a ‘wellbeing economy.’ Now there are many different definitions for a concept which has developed over the last 15 years or so, to the point at which it is now at the heart of the previous Scottish administration.

In a report published by the Scottish Government in late November last year, which provides a toolkit to support economic policy and strategy a fuller description is given:

“Wellbeing can be defined as ‘living well’ and is about ‘how we’re doing’ as individuals, communities and as a nation – and how sustainable that is for the future.

While definitions vary, a wellbeing economy can be described as an economic system operating within safe environmental limits, that serves the collective wellbeing of current and future generations first and foremost.

It is a system that empowers communities to take a greater stake in the economy, with more wealth generated, circulated and retained within local communities, while protecting and investing in the natural environment for generations to come. It provides opportunities for everyone to access fair, meaningful work, and values and supports responsible, purposeful businesses to thrive and innovate.

The approach recognises that reducing inequality and improving the lives of citizens through a human rights-based, social justice approach can also make the economy more resilient. It supports the transformations in our economy and society needed to thrive within the planet’s sustainable limits and capitalises on the opportunities this creates for improving people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing, tackling inequalities and supporting green jobs and businesses.”

It is rooted in certain core principles of Dignity, Participation, Fairness, Nature, and Purpose. Not much that could be disagreed with in all that. But what does it really mean? How can it be achieved? And is it all not just window dressing? Certainly, there seemed to be a bit of difference amongst the candidates for leadership of our nation not least in the role of wealth creation in such an economic modelling.

Alongside the concepts of a wellbeing economy there are other models and some of these are more focussed upon practical dimensions of human living. One such is the idea of recognising, valuing and in some instances creating a care economy.

This has and is gaining much prominence in the United States. One definition describes it as:

“the paid and unpaid labour related to caregiving such as childcare, elder care, and domestic chores—is a critical sector that enhances economic growth, gender equity, and women’s empowerment.”

The World Economic Forum has recently begin to argue that we need to reconceive our views of the importance of care as an economic driver, motivator and priority, not least since the impact and effects of Covid19. It argues:

“The care economy comprehends those activities that people perform daily, often in our homes, including chores or taking care of other persons, such as infants or the elderly. These chores, such as cleaning up a house or shopping for groceries, are typically not paid, and even less are considered productive.”

It is refreshing to read such a re-prioritisation. Is it time for Scotland to begin to explore the concepts behind a care economy? This goes way beyond those who deliver care and support to a re-conception of our whole economic framework into one whose central direction is the care cohesiveness aof the whole nation. It understands care as a critical economic driver with a primary aim which is inclusive of wellbeing but goes further both ecologically and economically. That is why compassion sits alongside care – the purpose of a care economic model is to ensure that all fiscal decisions are rooted in a compassionate ethic and morality. The weight of such a statement will not be lost on many who are facing the impacts of the savage cuts into social care and other provision being announced this last week by a number of Scottish local authorities. Perhaps the most distressing – in part because of volume has been those cuts to social care being accepted by Glasgow City Council who announced a £22m cut in budget. But there are other council areas proposing and planning even larger percentage cuts. There are going to be inevitable real losses as a result of these plans which will profoundly affect the lives of those being cared for and supported and those who work and care for and support them. In every sense they will limit care and cause harm.

There is a real opportunity at the start of a new administration to explore our whole economic modelling. The World Economic Forum has started work on the whole concept of a care and compassion economy. It has stated that whilst the care economy is usually not considered as a productive activity, because it is chiefly carried out by women, nevertheless data collected by the Colombian government demonstrates that the care economy could have a significant impact on a country’s GDP. It has with Colombia suggested a reform in the payment norms behind the care economy which would benefit women that can’t take other jobs due to time constraints. It has gone further by indicating that unpaid care which is fundamental to the cohesion of most economies should become paid or remunerated for in some ways.

A radical re-design of our economic basis is required which recognises that social care is a major economic contributor to the Scottish economy and as I have oft said should not be considered as a drain or deficit but should be reconsidered as an economic driver and asset to be built, developed and nurtured. Such a feminisation of economic priority would be a massive contributor in the re-design of our civic responsibility and economic modelling.

In the last month my colleagues and myself at Scottish Care have sought to #shinealight on the amazing women and men, organisations and bodies who deliver social care support across Scotland. We have sought to increase a message centred around the importance of us all beginning to #careaboutcare. That is in part an economic response which involves a re-prioritisation and a re-allocation of the limited fiscal resources we have as a country. I have argued against the injustice and inequity of social care staff being treated so discriminatorily and unfairly when compared to colleagues in the NHS.

If our new First Minister is to start to #careaboutcare then there are immediate practical first steps they can take to re-balance our health and social care systems. But in the medium to long term there are real opportunities to re-conceive our economy not solely on the basis of a wellbeing approach but one which explicitly advances and develops the ideas behind the ‘care economy’. I like the idea of living in a society where a care and compassion economy limits the likelihood of people having to decide to limit, cut or end the delivery of life-affirming care and support.

Donald Macaskill



Last Updated on 20th April 2023 by Shanice