How does basic income support caring?

The issues:

  • We all need care from others, particularly when we are young, ill or infirm
  • We are all potential carers – as parents, children, spouses, and other relatives; as partners, friends, neighbours, and lovers; as workmates and professional care-givers…indeed, in all our social relationships
  • The work of care is unequally shared between men and women. Women do the lion’s share of care work
  • People who need care may lack any income of their own and depend financially on others
  • Those who become the primary carers for others often find it impossible to combine care work with paid work
  • Modern societies and economies provide little support for care. Where it is provided in the form of tax credits for home carers or the carer’s allowance, it can be insecure and inflexible. Both of these payments are subject to a number of detailed conditions
  • Care has been pushed to the margins: it is unrecognised, unsupported and often stressful
  • The only universal support for care in Ireland is child benefit, which can be seen as an important, partial basic income for children.

How basic income can help:

Basic income is not a payment for caring, but it supports care in several ways:

  • It provides a secure income to anyone who needs to care for others, and for anyone who needs care
  • It gives people the flexibility to combine caring for others with part-time employment. Indeed, it gives everyone – both women and men – greater freedom to adjust the balance between care and employment. It eliminates the ‘care trap’ that can penalise carers for taking paid employment
  • It avoids bureaucracy. In a basic income system, carers do not have to apply for allowances and credits. No one has to convince officials of their need for care or their need to care. No one is denied support for care because their situation doesn’t fit the bureaucratic regulations
  • It guarantees care recipients an income of their own and therefore gives them a greater sense of empowerment
  • All of these features of basic income alleviate a lot of unnecessary stresses and anxieties and allow people to devote their energies to care relationships themselves
  • More generally, basic income is a general expression of the care we owe to each other, by giving everyone the financial security to meet their basic needs.

What basic income won’t do:

Basic income is not a panacea. On its own, it will not meet the extra costs of care for people with special needs – these will still have to be provided for through a proper system of supplementary payments and good healthcare services. On its own, it will not resolve the problem that women are expected to do most of the care work in Irish society – we need to change social expectations about gender and social policies relating to care. On its own, it will not resolve all the burdens and anxieties of care, or force the state, employers or society to take care more seriously. These are all important issues for a caring society. But basic income can play a useful role in a wider attempt to give care the support and recognition it deserves.