What Works to Improve Gender Equality? International best practice in childcare and long-term care policy

The following is an extract from chapter 6 from my new book.

Chapter 6: What are the issues with care policy and gender equality? Views from the stakeholders


What are the key issues and problems regarding care policy and gender equality from the perspective of policy makers and practitioners? We need to understand this in order to ascertain which, if any, of the policies and models discussed in this book will solve them and lead to better gender equality outcomes. We also need to understand which policies – and which features of the policies – would be amenable to transferring into a different context.

Methods and data

Interviews with 30 stakeholders. Participant responses were anonymised and an anonymous participant code was generated using a number that follows letters allocated as a code to their stakeholder group. Interview participants’ stakeholder groups (and codes) include civil servants working in the Scottish Government on childcare (SCOC) and long-term care (SCOL) third sector organisations concerned with gender equality (THIG) children and childcare (THIC) and carers and long-term care (THIL), elected politicians and activists (POL), trade unionists (TRA), civil servants in the Welsh Assembly (WAL), academics (ACA) and third sector stakeholders outside of Scotland (THIUK). Interviews were transcribed, inductively and thematically analysed using NVivo, and the validity of the findings checked through a series of events and discussions with stakeholders who had not taken part in the interviews. The three themes that emerged from the data as being the most pressing for stakeholders were: cultural issues to do with gender equality and the role of the state; governance (ie which level of the state or wider society should take responsibility for care policy); and the links between care policy and gender equality more generally.

Cultural issues: attitudes towards gender equality and the state

By far the most common issue raised by the stakeholders was that of culture. By this, they meant attitudes and values held by policy-makers and by the general population. There was concern that these attitudes were a serious impediment to the adoption of care policies that could lead to improved gender equality.

Attitudes to gender equality and care work

The need to rebalance ideas about paid work and unpaid caring/parenting across the genders, and the structural changes that this would mean, was noted by several participants:

‘In terms of gender equality and rights-based stuff, if you commit to that, then one of the things would be around parenting, around being a child-friendly nation, what does that mean? Well maybe what it means is we stop doing parent classes during working time without giving men the right to time off to attend them.’ (THIC1)

The gendered norms that underpinned women’s care work were noted, as well as the limitations that put on women’s lives and choices:

‘Women bear the brunt of caring responsibilities, they bring up the next generation, they can’t walk away from their responsibilities, men can walk away from their responsibilities at any point, women can’t.’ (POL1)

The cultural significance of gendered expectations around care, and how policies both reproduce and reinforce those expectations and teach them to the next generation was a concern for participants:

‘It’s not just about access to the labour market and childcare, it’s to do with the messages we give from day one of our children’s lives and to each other as adults about whose job it is to parent and care.’ (THIC2)

Participants noted the link between gendered expectations of care and the undervaluing of women’s paid work, which contributes to gender inequality through the gender pay gap:

‘Childcare, child-rearing, in general, is just deemed to be women’s work … You need to take the stigma out of men taking time out. So although the research tells us men do want to spend more time with their children, they are not. If more men were able to do that then there would be a wider recognition about the value that we attach to care work in particular because it’s like, you know, it comes as second nature to women because they’re used to caring, they’re used to doing this which is the premise of all the undervaluing of women’s work that involves cooking, cleaning, caring, well, they’re doing all that anyway so there’s no point remunerating them fairly.’ (THIG1)

It was noted how a strong cultural attachment to gendered norms of caring could be implicit, rather than explicit, in policy, and nevertheless exert a powerful influence over expectations and policy developments:

‘There’s not much of a normative discussion … we are quite liberal, in the sense that there isn’t ‘all mothers have to stay at home’, but there is also not particularly strong support in society for the employment of mothers, particularly mothers of small children, so I think there is still a bit of mummy culture in the sense of why shouldn’t mums be home with their kids at least until they start school? Quite a bit of reluctance to actually even talk about work and particularly full-time work of mothers of smaller children … quite a strong sense still that mums should be home.’ (ACA1)

The negative impact of gendered stereotypes and norms associated with caring on men as well as women was a key theme for many participants:

‘Gender equality as a concept is important because it recognises that the way things stand, although men are privileged within the system, that privilege comes with disadvantages as well, so men who are minded to do care work will experience the same low pay, poverty wages and lack of regard as women who do care work. Men who want to substantially engage themselves with their family life will find that culturally unacceptable within their workplace.’ (THIG2)

Cultural norms and practices that have become accepted through gendered approaches to childcare also translated over the life course to women being more likely to provide long-term care, and also to combine caring with working:

‘There’s always been a higher proportion of women providing [family] care … with elderly parents it’s more likely to be the daughter that does that more in-depth care … men are more likely to give up work entirely whereas women are more likely to be able to maintain part-time work alongside a caring role … that possibly reflects that women have already done that part-time work looking after children.’ (THIL1)

Some participants drew a link between cultural norms and the political discourse around policy options, which placed limits on the kind of approaches to childcare that were considered to be politically acceptable:

‘Scotland is a very female country … it’s disproportionately women who are portrayed with a mum with a kid doing very traditional female things, it’s always that middle-class white woman with a child fulfilling that kind of role, we want to support you as mothers, and then after that, we’ll still kind of support you in the workplace.’ (POL2)

Gendered norms also affected the options for part-time or full-time paid work available to men, and thus the nature of their involvement in unpaid care work:

‘It’s rarer for a man to give up work to care for family members, it’s all about who’s the breadwinner, it’s a cultural thing and also it’s a societal thing and there’s the nature and nurture type of thing about it … women will be the ones who are taking on that role in the family.’ (THIL2).

There was an explicit link drawn between the involvement of men in caring, particularly in paid childcare, and the cultural attitudes that support the gendered division of caring labour:

‘It’s only when we can make early years provision an attractive place to work, making it a requirement for men, that we are going to see a substantial difference in attitudes.’ (THIC3)

Finally, many participants also drew an explicit link between the cultural expectation of gendered caring and how women’s labour more generally was undervalued by society:

‘There’s insufficient value attached to unpaid care work, we’ve attached insufficient value to what women primarily do in the home, often on top of a full-time job doing something else, it means the whole conversation leads into care not having a financial value attached to it.’ (TRA1)

Attitudes to state provision of welfare, childcare and long-term care services

It was not only cultural attitudes to gendered divisions in caring and work that were perceived to affect the acceptability of certain policy approaches. Participants also pointed out that norms and perceptions that were concerned with the role that the state should play in the provision of welfare generally fed into ideas about how acceptable state intervention in the form of childcare and long-term care policies were, both to society generally and to policy-makers in particular:

‘There’s a sort of political and cultural thing there about how do we all buy into this … but we’re a long way from having that conversation.’ (TRA1)

Normative and cultural values also were embedded into different government departments that would need to work together to develop appropriate policies. For example, whilst the evidence indicates that social services and education need to collaborate to develop effective childcare policies, entrenched differing values and ways of working were perceived as being obstacles to this happening:

‘Political priorities are the biggest barrier around cultural questions about the way we do things. I think we’ve got into some quite entrenched ways of working and thinking about some of our social services and education, there are a number of cultural barriers built into that process.’ (THIC3)

Participants raised questions over whether the UK was prepared to pay higher taxes in order to secure better public services, particularly in the case of long-term care for older people:

‘We have to ask ourselves as a society what do we value and what are we prepared to pay for. Homecare is generally for older people and we’re just not prepared to pay as a country for that kind of service.’ (SCOL1)

‘Whether Scotland is a country that would say we are happy to pay significantly higher taxes if it means we’re going to have a decent income if we need to care, but I am not certain we are.’ (THIL1)

The idea that taxpayer’s money was spent on ‘residual’ welfare for stigmatised groups, rather than a sense of having shared universal payments and services, was felt by participants to be a powerful cultural norm regarding state-led policies:

‘In the UK there is a strong sense of them and us, them: that is the state and the civil servants and all the people that don’t work hard and us: we’re the hard-working people being robbed by the state.’ (ACA1)

The cultural sense that the state should not be ‘interfering’ in private lives was particularly obvious when it came to attitudes towards the provision of childcare:

‘I’d get a stupid argument at a meeting I was at a while ago where they were saying ‘well we don’t think children should be left from eight in the morning til eight at night’ and all we’re saying is the facility should be open.’ (TRA1)

Participants pointed out that the political culture of the UK – being a predominantly neo-liberal rather than universal/social democratic welfare state regardless of the political party in power – limited the kinds of arguments that could be used in favour of increased provision of childcare:

‘Everything’s gone very much to the right … All the childcare policies in the UK are about free-market principles and not about transformational change.’ (THIC4)

Finally, participants voiced the concern than not understanding or valuing the human cost of providing unpaid care was leading to an unwillingness to provide state-funded long-term care services:

‘I think we have a general empathy towards folk that provide family care but I don’t think there’s a real understanding … I am not sure that even within local authorities that there is a true understanding of the unpaid carers, the impact on them.’ (THIL2)

See the full book at:


Why #feminists and #independence supporters need to be wary of ALBA

It’s a pretty rough time to be a feminist who supports Scottish independence right now. At the tail end of Alex Salmond’s ongoing war against the women he admits to harrassing, and the women who refused to cover up for him, his sense of outraged entitlement resulted in the foundation of the ALBA party specifically designed to challenge the SNP in list seats.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a founder member and the ex-Scottish policy spokesperson of a party founded by Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer as a response to the failure of other political parties to take women’s equality seriously. The Women’s Equality party has gradually built up membership, won seats, and is contesting the Scottish Parliament elections– not to win power, but to call the other parties to account on women’s equality. So I would be a hypocrite to call someone out for founding a single-focus political party.

(Obligatory electioneering: donate to the WEP crowdfunder here, because we aren’t backed by Russian millionaires)

ALBA announced its list of candidates for Holyrood, which include a predicable number of disgruntled ex-SNP candidates who failed to make the selection for the SNP, or have been very vocal in their opposition to some of the more progressive policy directions recently taken. There are probably some SNP branch secretaries secretly relieved that the more right wing troublemakers have left.

If the old adage ‘know a man by the company he keeps’ is true, Salmond’s ability to attract support from fellow misogynists, who have managed to land themselves in court or banned from social media for their attacks on women, should already be ringing alarm bells for any feminists thinking of supporting the new party, particularly when their response to being called out for abusing women is to abuse women:

To clarify: Salmond has admitted non-consensual ‘sleepy cuddles’; Wings Over Scotland (the alleged author of the above tweet) has been regularly suspended from social media for online abuse of women, uses his blog to abuse women, and lost a defamation case where he was accused of homophobia by a lesbian politician; Craig Murray committed contempt of court by releasing information that could identify women who didn’t want to be identified; and Tommy Sheridan harassed fellow party members and got his wife to lie in court about it. You do not need to be Helena Kennedy QC to know that abusing women does not always result in a court conviction. None of these men have apologised for their behaviour towards women.

Salmond has also persuaded the Independence for Scotland party – a party specifically founded because it disagreed with the proposed SNP reforms to the Gender Recognition Act – to stand down its candidates. Let’s get this clear. A group of people who are worried about men abusing GRA protections to invade single sex spaces and abuse women is supporting a party led and supported by a group of men who have demonstrably abused women and shown absolutely no remorse for it.

It does my head in.

So, even without the sinister undertones of being a vanity project by a man with a clear vendetta against a woman who replaced him and refused to cover up his bad behaviour, any feminist should be incredibly wary of the people attracted to ALBA. And that is before we get to the lack of policies.

#COVID19 has hit women disproportionately hard, and the next Scottish Parliament will be tasked with repairing Scotland’s economy, health and social care systems, education and poverty. Now is not the time for vanity politicians: now is the time for some serious hard work to address the huge inequalities made wider by the pandemic.

If Salmond’s agenda really was about Scottish independence, there are far more effective ways to support the achievement of that than by forming a new and unnecessary political party. There is no point having a referendum if you can’t win it, and here the growth of grassroots organisations will be the key to success. Evidence shows that a substantial minority of ‘soft nos’ in 2014 were actively turned off independence by Salmond’s divisive nature and their dislike of the SNP. Organisations like Women for Independence have had remarkable success in turning many of these ‘soft nos’ into ‘yes’ and the women’s vote will be particularly important.

If he really wanted to win independence, Salmond could have put some of his considerable material and social capital behind one of these organisations (or founded his own), to counteract the mainstream media advantage enjoyed by the Unionists. It’s fairly clear that he and ALBA might divide pro-independence voters, but they are not going to win any new voters over to independence itself. Indeed, the evidence from 2014 and since then suggests that ‘soft nos’ – particularly women – are likely to disengage from any political discourse dominated by him. Unionists, feminists, ‘soft nos’ and the general public actively dislike Salmond, and it is going to be hard work persuading them to vote for a project supported by him.

Which leads me to the conclusion that as an independence supporting feminist, I cannot see any rational grounds to support the endeavour. If you don’t like the SNP don’t vote for them, but for heaven’s sake don’t use your vote to show that misogynistic dinosaurs can buy their way into power. That’s not a Scotland I, or any activist I know, wants to see.


On being an #intersectional #feminist at 50

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I turned 50 yesterday, and celebrated by avoiding social media.

Nevertheless it has been impossible to avoid the current swirl of toxic debate on #transphobia and #jkrowling’s objections to being called a ‘menstruator’. So I thought, after a much saner debate with my eldest child on feminism and transgender issues, I would share my thoughts on contemporary feminism after 30 years as an academic and activist.

Like many women, I came to feminism as the survivor of violence: domestic violence as a child and rape as an adult. I was studying law at the time, and as a rape survivor I knew both academically and experientially that the legal system was stacked against me. Feminism, in fact, was the only political and academic ideology that didn’t blame me. And that grounding has always informed my feminism. And this unites most feminists: whilst it is a broad church, we all agree that violence against women and girls is rooted in patriarchy and never, ever excusable.

The thing I have realised in an increasingly polarised debate over sex versus gender is that I don’t agree with either the more radical gender critical feminists or the radical transactivists. I don’t think the evidence stacks up completely on either side – and in fact, that makes sense. Carol Smart always warned us about the dangers of ‘grand theorising’ in feminism: of attempting to find a grand, overarching theory of everything that would explain women’s oppression.

So, on the one hand, some of women’s oppression is rooted in sex. We can see this most clearly in issues like female genital mutilation, forced marriage, childbirth and healthcare, menstruation and period poverty: and more recently in other areas where biological sex matters, such as sports. The physical and material reality of female bodies is a source of our oppression and what unites us as a class is our need to overthrow that oppression.

But sex is clearly not the only source of women’s oppression. Much of it comes from gender: from the socially constructed norms that are linked to sex. Put simply: female people giving birth is biology; female people caring for young children, and the fact that that is undervalued is gender. Female people generally being smaller and less strong than male people is sex: the fact that female soccer players play in single-sex teams who are underpaid and undervalued compared to male teams is gender. 

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So my non-binary eldest child asked me what my solution would be. When I told them my answer they asked me to write this blog so it’s clear to other people.

To me, the main problem with the transgender issue is not the complex ideas about sex, gender, identity, rights and oppression that are happening in ongoing debates and conversations in feminism and activism. That’s the nature of feminism: it is a broad church, it constantly re-evaluates the evidence and the theory and constantly questions established and accepted norms. The main problem is that the debate itself has become binary, emotional and dangerous.

At the moment, it appears that you can either be a full on ‘TERFS must die’  transactivist OR you can be a ‘gender critical all men are rapists’ feminist. There is no middle ground. As soon as you question the orthodoxy of either of these positions you are cast out into the other position, regardless of your own beliefs, material reality or experiences. As a rape and domestic abuse survivor the violence that is threatened and perpetrated against women questioning the trans orthodoxy horrifies me. But as an intersectional trans ally, the tired tropes of self-identifying transwomen being rapists waiting in single sex bathrooms to prey on girls also horrifies me. As a feminist, ANY gender orthodoxy that is tribal horrifies me – and it should horrify all feminists. Gender orthodoxy is a very powerful tool for the patriarchy to continue our oppression, often with our own collusion.

As I said above, sex-based oppression is real, as is gender-based oppression. The fact that I – along with 1 in 4 women, and many transwomen and gay men have been abused, assaulted, raped and traumatised, and in 98% of cases the perpetrators were men is gender based oppression. It is, sadly, a shared experience. It’s why I went on my first Pride march at 18. It’s one of the many, many reasons we need to get rid of the patriarchy and make the world safer for women and men. The fact that transmen feel excluded from period poverty campaigns aimed at ‘women’ and face violence from men because they have female bodies is gender-based oppression. Placing criminal  transmen in male prisons means they will be at risk of violence from men because they have female bodies. This is due to patriarchal values which teach men than violence towards women is an acceptable way of creating and maintaining power over them.  Fighting this oppression should create allies instead of enemies because inequality hurts us all, often very graphically and physically.

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It is this joint experience of gender-based oppression that initially drew me to being a trans ally. At the time, I didn’t really realise what a privileged position that meant I was in. Even as a rape survivor being around male bodies doesn’t trigger me. I am very happy for any ‘single sex’ spaces to include people who are biologically male, it costs me nothing and doesn’t threaten me. But as a woman in a happy 28 year old heterosexual relationship, I am very unlikely to ever need to use a domestic violence shelter. I might. The presence there of male bodied people wouldn’t be a problem for me. But it might well be for other women. And I am pretty damned sure it is abusing my privilege if I insist that those women have to accept a situation that they genuinely experience as threatening.

Similarly, as a middle class woman I am unlikely to end up in prison. Again, I might. Even if I did, having other people there with male bodies would not be much of a threat to me, personally, any more than having violent people with female bodies would be (that is to say, both would be threatening). But to other traumatised women, often the victims of male perpetrated violence, the maleness of a physical body could be experienced as very threatening. Who am I with my privilege to tell those women that their fears are unacceptable? No-one, that’s who. No feminist ever has the right to tell a woman that her material reality based on her experiences and fear of violence is not real or not valid. Ever.

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It seems to me that the reason the transgender debate has become so polarising is not just that we have forgotten that compassion and empathy for experiences that we might not share should be the root of our feminism. It is that it has been framed as a binary debate. This is based on the – to my mind false and damaging – idea that gender, like sex, is binary. That you either have your sex and gender line up, in which case you are cis, or your sex is the opposite of your gender, in which case you are trans. These are binary exclusive categories that means that there will forever be competition for identity, for resources, and for things like physical and legal protection. Like it or not, saying transwomen are women and deserve exactly the same rights and protections as women born female is potentially threatening some of those hard-won sex-based rights.

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If we take an empirical approach and actually look at the evidence, it doesn’t support a strict binary division. Yes, sex is binary apart from rare intersex conditions. But gender identity and gender based oppression quite clearly are not binary. As a White bisexual cis disabled woman, my experience of gender based oppression is highly contingent on the fact that I have been raped, I have had children, I have experienced menstruation and menopause, I have been a parent and a carer, I am disabled and so on. The material reality of my sex is binary, but my sexuality is clearly not binary, nor is my experience of being both a carer and a cared for person, nor, as a White person with Jewish family, is my experience of the intersectionality of race and gender. It is all very complex.

And yet, as young people and teenagers are exploring their own identities, where they fit in the world, and who their tribe is, they are at the moment constantly being asked to make binary choices. Are you Black or White? Gay or straight? Cis or trans? Sane or mad? Arts or sports? Goth or metal? Scottish or British? Rich or poor?

I was lucky. I was Gen X. Boomers didn’t care and millennials hadn’t come along  yet. We were free to explore our identities. Boy George could be gay and have gorgeous skin and be a man. Annie Lennox could sing like a soprano angel and look like a gay robot. David Bowie, Prince, Madonna and countless other cultural icons constantly blurred the edges of gender and sexuality and empowered us to do the same. Our fight was about sexuality and the right to be gay or straight or anything else, not about whether to be a man or a woman. Some of us emerged from our young adult years clear about our identity and tribe, and some were still confused. But almost all of our choices were flexible and non binary.

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Now it seems that choices over gender identity are being made constrained and binary, in a patriarchal world where gender is socially constructed, and the value of men and women are unequal. In this bifurcated system, everyone is pitted against each other, rights and protections are finite and it’s a zero sum game: therefore, giving rights to transwomen who are not biologically female takes them away from women who are biologically female.

But what if we looked at the reality of lived experience and gender oppression? We would soon see that binary distinctions are often meaningless and unhelpful. Intersectionality has taught us that it is not just being female that oppresses women: class, ethnicity, disability, care, age and many other factors affect the experience of oppression. It should also teach us about the dangers of binary approaches to gender and gender identity. Women have sex-based protections because many of the oppressions they face are sex-based. But many oppressions are gender based. Transwomen in particular are facing multiple oppressions. Rejected by some feminists because their biology does not match their gender identity, rejected by some sexuality activists because their same-gender attraction does not equal same-sex attraction, rejected by mainstream culture and society because they do not fit in any binary approach, they are subject to violence and exclusion from all sides.

To me as an intersectional feminist the solution appears to be that we need to include non-binary people as a protected category under the Equality Act. Instead of forcing a group of women who feel threatened by male-sex people claiming to belong to the category of ‘woman’ rather than ‘man’ to accept that definition, we should accept that there are many people, particularly young people, who do not fit either. Some may well be transwomen on the process of transitioning and making a permanent decision about wanting to be and live as a woman. Some may not. Some may be transmen in the process of making a permanent commitment to living and identifying as a man, some may not. Some may wish to make themselves as close to possible to being biologically female or male, some may not. Some may end up deciding they are same sex attracted rather than trans, or are both, and some may not. Some may choose to permanently reject binary gender categories and stay non-binary, and some may not. The point is, all of these people deserve rights and protection, and we need to offer it without threatening the sex-based rights and protections that are already there for a good reason.

So there you have my position on one of the current issues facing feminism. Sadly for all of you who would wish us to stick to our opposing camps and refuse to associate with the other side, I am neither a TERF nor a radical transactivist. Sex is real and sex-based oppression is real, but so is gender and socially constructed gender oppression. Both types of oppression are caused by patriarchy and a society where this didn’t happen would benefit everyone. Nothing ever, ever excuses actual or threatened violence, particularly against women or girls. And we need to stop being so bloody in/out and tribal about our feminism. We can include (nearly) everyone in the sisterhood.

You can disagree with me and still be a feminist and still be my sister (or brother or sibling if you prefer) and I will fight and die on the hill for your right to do so. As long as there are hugs and gin and compassion on that hill, everyone is welcome. I will never ever silence, or condone the silencing of any of you. And I have no desire whatsoever to live in a little tribal bubble and throw anyone out who disagrees with me, because how on earth do we move forward if we aren’t constantly listening, arguing, and learning? I am an intersectional, complex, fifty year old feminist and proud of it.

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See my latest short video on care and #covid19 here

#Covid19 shows how much we need #feminism

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We can see women’s hidden labour everywhere now
















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Hands up if you are working from home, at 150% of your capacity because you are having to work remotely and/or online without the skills, equipment, training or experience to do it – AND you are in lockdown with you children and partner, and depending on their age, trying to homeschool, parent and do childcare whilst your partner works – and your partner has said something along the lines of ‘gosh there’s a lot to do around here’.

Yes there bloody well is. And it’s news to precisely none of us that the bulk of it is done by women, unseen, and definitely underappreciated. Now our partners are working from home with us they are *seeing* a lot of the hidden labour.

But it isn’t, luckily, just our partners. In my world it has been noted that hardly any women are submitting research papers for review, whereas submissions by men are up at least 50%. Why? it doesn’t take a genius to work it out. Women in academia are bearing the emotional burden of caring for and about our students and our colleagues. We’re bearing the burden of the homeschooling, the working from home without childcare, we’re at the forefront of providing emotional and practical support for our friends, families and neighbours. We’re working 16 hour days just to keep all the plates spinning, to keep everyone safe and well and alive. We’re EXHAUSTED. Meanwhile our male colleagues are holed up in their shed, churning out research papers free from sticky toddler hands or teenage mental health breakdowns, letting their wives or sisters worry about their frail parents, filling in spreadsheets demonstrating their increased productivity ready for the next round of REF related promotions.

That is probably a huge oversimplification and unfair to the many men who ARE taking up some of the unpaid burden of care here. But it’s also replicating the inequalities that we know exist: that women are over represented in the unpaid parents and carers, and men are over represented in the paid sectors of the economy.

We need care now more than ever

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And yet, who is saving us in #covid19? Overwhelmingly it is the carers. The paid carers in the NHS and social care, keeping us alive and well to the best of their ability in the face of the abject failure of political leadership. Paid care workers in the community, overwhelmingly female, most of them barely earning a living wage, risking the lives of themselves and the disabled, frail, elderly people they care for because of lack of support, PPE, equipment and planning. The unpaid carers, already filling in the widening gaps in support, coping with the sudden withdrawal of what little support there was, keeping themselves and their families alive and well, and probably the ones keeping their friends, wider family and neighbours well too.

I have PTSD, fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, diabetes and retinopathy. 6 sets of NHS care have been abruptly withdrawn, with no online replacements or any idea of when the support might return. I am in physical agony and mental distress with nothing but some medication and my own coping mechanisms to get me through: I am losing mobility and hard-fought for sanity every day. That’s just me. I have a clinically depressed son – he has no health or social care support at all, and the fragile support he was getting from school has disappeared, along with his ability to rely on his friends. He barely speaks. My daughter has ADHD and social anxiety – she was due to be seen by CAMHS, but that was cancelled, as was her only support network in school. She is in tears every day, unable to cope without the structure of school, missing her friends terribly, terrified to take part in activities online in case she gets it wrong. Most of my emotional energy is taken up supporting them, keeping them safe and alive, trying desperately to use my own mental health coping skills to help them, and doing it very very badly. My eldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome and is currently finishing his final year of undergraduate studies at home: he’s a useful test for me for what my own final year students are experiencing. He’s working 16 hour days to try and get his dissertation finished, uncertain about online exams, missing his tutorials and his fellow students, and he won’t get to graduate properly.

The ONLY way I have found to cope is through the care and compassion I extend to my family, students, colleagues, friends and neighbours. And the care and compassion that comes back at me. Running mindfulness classes online for my stressed out an anxious friends (I am a qualified mindfulness teacher and it’s wonderful to actually be able to give something back) helps me a lot. The kindness of friends. Someone who dropped by a book without ringing the bell and setting the dog off. The neighbour – herself struggling with her mental health but physically a marathon runner and cyclist – who texted me to ask if we needed any help. The colleagues who poured out their grief and tears and concerns in a supposedly ‘professional’ online meeting and showed me how much care and compassion get us through. The pharmacist who, unasked, delivered my meds and checked on a refill knowing I had forgotten to do it and was struggling to walk. The friend who knowing damned well I wouldn’t pick up the phone left me a very long message telling me how much she loved and supported and – best of all – respected me for what I do, privately and politically, every day. The student who wrote in the acknowledgements section of her dissertation how much she felt she owed me and how inspirational she found what I did for women’s rights (and believe me, when you get the amount of shite women get on social media just for being women, let alone being feminist, you will appreciate how precious that sisterly support is).

Compassionate leadership

Jacinda Ardern - Wikipedia

It’s no accident that many of the leaders we are currently finding inspirational are women. Jacinta Arden in New Zealand, Angela Merkel in Germany, Katrin Jakobsdottir in Iceland and others  have demonstrated that cool, compassionate heads are the ones you want in charge in a crisis. It isn’t just that they are women: in order to achieve political power in a sexist world, they have had to be demonstrably better than all the men around them. They have also succeeded in political systems that have fairer electoral systems than the UK, systems that favour co-operative rather than adversarial policy making. When Jacinta Arden tells you to ‘be kind’ it is not a trite slogan: it is a fundamentally ideological statement about the kind of politics and leadership we need. Bluff populists, overpromoted mediocre men (and women), people who are part of elite networks because of their schooling are, it seems, not much use during a pandemic. Hardworking intelligent practical and compassionate leaders are showing us how to get through.

We need feminism now more than ever

What, I hear you ask, does feminism have to do with all this? Well, it is feminist scholarship that has taught us:

  • That caring and parenting are fundamental to a functioning society;
  • That care work is undervalued because it is seen as women’s work;
  • That women are undervalued because they do the care work;
  • That capitalism and patriarchy are damaging to our society if they are not mitigated by care and compassion;
  • That we need care and compassion in our leaders and in our societies to survive.

If we can take that lesson through to life beyond #Covid19 – if there even is a life beyond #Covid19 – then we will emerge with a more resilient, kinder, fairer society. Even, perhaps, a feminist one.

Practising compassion

Here’s a useful 10 minute loving kindness mindfulness meditation I recorded for you, it helps to focus the mind on cultivating that feeling of compassion we need to function.

Surviving working from home

himalayan salt lamp near laptop on wooden table
Photo by Andrea Davis on Pexels.com

If working from home is a new experience for you due to Covid19 then WELCOME TO MY WORLD. As part of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ to my work because of PTSD and fibromylagia, I spend about 80% of my time working from home. I am going to share some of the rules I have learned that work for me, so you can save yourself the four years it took me to learn them.

  1. Have a designated work space, even if that is just the corner of a desk

This is not the time to carry your laptop around with you, and definitely not the time to start working in bed. If you can, keep all your work stuff OUT of your bedroom. Otherwise the boundaries between work and sleep get very confused, and you’ll find yourself with anxiety-induced insomnia. In fact, now is a good time to adopt a clean sleep routine

It doesn’t need to be neat or tidy, although if you are the neat and tidy type, choose somewhere that no-one uses or it will drive you nuts. In fact, if you are OCD, don’t look at these pictures, because this is what my desk in my living room looks like right now:


On the left you can see a pile of articles I have been using to write my latest article, plus some notecards I have been using for analysis. This is the other side:


Here you can see my coffee cup (important: see later), a pile of student dissertations, and my daughter’s taekwondo kit. Why am I showing you this? the crucial thing is that the article and the dissertations are what I am working on right now. As soon as these are finished, I will clear those away and the next ‘pile’ will replace them. Never leave things to pile up beyond the immediate task otherwise you spend half your morning clearing your desk, then the other half clearing up the room. Which leads me to:

2. Do not let the procrastination monkey get you!

Have you ever met this guy?


This is the proscratination monkey.

Basically we all are looking for immediate gratification rather than to do the thing we actually need to do that might take time and concentration. So we get easily distracted. In the office we are surrounded by things and people that remind us what we are there for. At home there’s just us, and a myriad of things and people that demand our attention. So, have a schedule. Use something like Outlook Calender which I like because it syncs with my work email, and I can easily populate it with the documents I need for tasks. Schedule things in 90 minute chunks (or less) and for that 90 minutes DO THE THING. And DON’T DO:

  • the hoovering;
  • the childcare;
  • the organising of the cupboard under the stairs;
  • the laundry;
  • the playing with of the cat;
  • the loading of the dishwasher;
  • the ordering of the shopping off the internet;
  • Facebook, Twitter or any social media;
  • coffee making (you can DRINK coffee while you work. In fact it’s mandatory).

Guys, I realise, you have drifted off because you don’t do any of these things anyway 🙂 but seriously WOMEN, particularly MOTHERS, I am talking to YOU. This is WORK. You need dedicated space and you need childcare. Even if childcare is your teenager next door with Finding Nemo on repeat. Teach your kids to respect your work time and your work space. Those of you middle class enough to have an office or a shed, use it. The rest of us, develop selective blindness and deafness. Do. The. Work. Do NOT do the Other Things.

3. Keep to your routine

Get up. Get dressed. If you would wear makeup to the office, wear it at home. If you would shave and wear a suit do that (particularly if you are going to do zoom or skype meetings. Have a thought for the rest of us. No one wants to see your sweatpants Jeremy, or your pyjamas, Karen.) Use your commuting time as your lie-in but be at your desk when you would be at work. Otherwise – and I speak from experience here – you will stay in bed all morning looking at Twitter on your tablet.

4. Take breaks and get outside

If in COVID19 isolation times you aren’t ill but you can’t get to the gym, get outside anyway. I got a dog specifically for this purpose


If you haven’t got a dog, go for a walk or run around the block even – especially – if it’s raining. If your neighbour is self isolating and has a dog, take them. (the dog, not the neighbour). Seriously. Your mental and physical health will thank you. I do this at lunch time then eat last night’s leftover dinner for lunch when I get back. This is one of those unspoken perks of working from home. Get good at using tupperware. Otherwise lunch will consist of your 4 year old’s gummi bears and you’ll order in pizza. DON’T DO THIS. That’s what the weekend is for.

5. Use social media sparingly

I treat Facebook and Twitter as my coffee break. After actually getting up and making coffee (and if you like coffee now is the time to invest in a proper coffee maker. I personally like the Tassimo – yes, Bosch, you can send me free stuff – because you can make nearly-as-good-as-Costa cappucinos and also get a load of decaff stuff for it) or tea (ditto, go mad on proper tea if you are middle class enough, T2 – yes, you may also send me free stuff, any version of Early Grey will do – is my go to for this. Make a ritual of it because you aren’t going to cafes with your friends. Treat yourself) sit yourself down for 10 mins, catch up with your friends on Facebook, start an argument with a stranger on Twitter. Then STOP AND SWITCH IT OFF. That was your water cooler moment. Don’t switch it back on again until the end of the work day or your next 10 mins break.

6. Don’t start the day with emails

I should have put this first. Have a 90 minute task set up at the beginning of the day that doesn’t involve email or social media and DO THAT FIRST. Then have coffee or tea, your Facebook break, THEN your emails. Sort these into a) things that take less than 5 mins to sort, do these immediately b) things that take more time but are urgent-ish – attend to these after your next 90 minutes productivity time and c) things that take more time but aren’t urgent – schedule these into your Outlook Calendar or whatever for the end of the week. Trust me. This is adapted from the amazing Getting Things Done approach and if you are, like me, constantly anxious about the list of things you are sure you’ve forgotten to do, check it out.

7. Look after your mental health

If this is new to you because of Covid19, and you are anxious about things (and if you aren’t anxious what is your bloody secret, mate??), then now is an ideal time to learn and practice mindfulness if you don’t already. It’s tough to learn: it took me 3 attempts! You have to stick with a 6 or 8 week course and practice every day. But now is a good opportunity: it takes 20 minutes a day. And that’s probably not even half the communting time you are saving. A good online free course is here and there are further resources here. I am the world’s biggest sceptic, and it’s no substitute for proper treatment and therapy for serious mental health issues, but I found it so helpful I trained as a mindfulness teacher so I could use it with my students.

Do little things that make you happy. Try not to make these things involve spending too much money on the internet, eating too much, or drinking too much/taking too many drugs. But find moments in the day to be grateful, to breathe, to light a candle, read a book, phone a friend and actually talk to them, stroke the cat…..


Be kind to you, and others.

Peace and strength.


#Holocaust memorial day and #Brexit

I grew up in Vienna, a city with a long and chequered history of anti-Semitism. I studied history, and part of that we had to visit Mauthausen concentration camp. My present family are Jewish enough that my husband and children would have been sent off to the camps. (I probably would have been exterminated earlier as a disabled and mentally ill person). So the Holocaust is close to me.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The horrors the Allies discovered as always led us to say ‘never again’.

The EEC (now EU) was founded in a post-War spirit of economic co-operation. If we grew our economies together, if we moved and lived in (then) 7 and now 28 countries, then we would see each other as friends and neighbours, not as distant strangers that we could commit genocide against or go to war with. It’s been the single most successful anti-war and anti-genocide economic and social policy experiment since 1945.

And on Friday, we in the UK are going to leave. Already we have seen a dramatic rise in racism and xenophobia. Friends, colleagues and families are leaving because of the toxic environment and those that live here now feel unsafe and unwelcome. This is how anti-semitism started in Berlin in the early 1930s. Not with invasion and jackboots, but with the scapegoating of people for a national economic disaster and the entirely legal systematic othering, blaming, and ultimately genocide.

I am not being dramatic when I say there are clear and worrying parallels here. We see the EU and foreigners being scapegoated and blamed for systematic social policy failure that was the responsibility of the post-2008 austerity regime, not the EU. We see rights and freedoms being taken away and that being welcomed by the electorate. We see opinions and hatred that 10 years ago would have been seen as dangerous and unwelcome as part of the mainstream of policy and media.

German children in the 1960s started asking their parents, what did you do in the war? What did you do before? Did you oppose fascism, did you enable it, did you carry it out?

What are WE going to say when OUR children ask us in 20 years time, what did you do in Brexit? Did you oppose it, did you enable it, did you carry it out?

And I hope to the goddess that we are not living with concentration camps of refugees, that the rights and freedoms being taken away are not extended further, that the unthinkable does not become commonplace.

Because history has shown us where that ends.


black metal train rails
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Policy Transfer and Learning

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

(podcast download)

‘Policy learning’ describes the use of knowledge to inform policy decisions. That knowledge can be based on information regarding the current problem, lessons from the past or lessons from the experience of others. This is a political, not technical or objective, process (for example, see the ACF post). ‘Policy transfer’ describes the transfer of policy solutions or ideas from one place to another, such as by one government importing the policy in another country (note related terms such as ‘lesson-drawing’, ‘policy diffusion’ and ‘policy convergence’ – transfer is a catch-all, umbrella, term). Although these terms can be very closely related (one would hope that a government learns from the experiences of another before transferring policy) they can also operate relatively independently. For example, a government may decide not to transfer policy after learning from the experience of another, or it may transfer (or ‘emulate’) without really understanding…

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