Care, Support and COVID-19
(COVID-19 Blog Series)

By Dr Yvette Maker
Senior Research Associate, Melbourne Social Equity Institute

23 April 2020

Since mid-March, I have been working from home on, among other things, a book about care and support policy. I'm interested in how we can promote the rights of all parties to care and support relationships – especially people with disability and carers – in a manner that prioritises dignity and recognises our shared interdependence. This means acknowledging that relying on others, and providing support to others, are normal and valuable parts of being a human, and being a citizen. It also means recognising that our needs are not equally distributed – some of us will require greater levels of care or support in order to secure our dignity and enjoy our rights.

The COVID-19 crisis has, unfortunately, highlighted the limited extent to which we follow these principles in many areas of life. One example is authorities’ failure to promptly recognise the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) for disability support workers and their clients, meaning many people with disability are either going without the support they need or are being placed at risk of contracting COVID-19 or passing it on to their workers.

We expect (indeed, need) aged care workers to go to work every day despite the serious risks to their health – risks demonstrated by COVID-19 outbreaks at multiple aged care facilities in recent weeks. Our reliance on these workers is at odds with the low economic and cultural value we place on their work.

Furthermore, shifting work, school and childcare into many people’s homes has amplified the work-care ‘juggle’ for many parents. Women continue to do the lion’s share of care and domestic work, meaning women with children are likely to have quite different experiences of the pandemic. The consequences of this can be long-lasting – disruptions to employment can have negative, lifelong impacts on women’s career progression, earning capacity, and retirement income.

I am not without optimism for the future. The last month has brought into sharp relief our reliance on each other and the many ways in which our fortunes are linked – even for those who usually think of themselves as independent or self-sufficient. The imposition of physical distancing has highlighted how intertwined our social, education and working lives are. Expressions of support and admiration for health workers, childcare workers, retail workers and food producers suggest a greater awareness of those we rely on to sustain us and our families, and community-led efforts to check in with neighbours who were previously strangers demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity with those beyond our immediate circle of family and friends.

This may offer new opportunities to recognise and value our interdependence and the care and support it often entails. If we are to capture this moment, notions of dignity and human rights must be at the centre of the conversation. This means recognising care and support needs as features of human diversity rather than unusual or exceptional ‘vulnerabilities’, and acknowledging the economic and social value of giving care and support to others.

Dr Yvette Maker is a Senior Research Associate at the Melbourne Social Equity Institute with expertise in law and social policy. Her forthcoming book, Care and Support Rights After Neoliberalism, will be published by Cambridge University Press.