The Labours of Love; The Courage to Care; The Care Manifesto review – our compassion crisis in focus

Madeleine Bunting and Christie Watson bring personal experience to bear on heartbreaking studies of the UK’s ailing care system, and academics suggest a way forward

It’s a shame, in a way, that Labours Of Love, Madeleine Bunting’s vital and eye-opening study of the “invisible” care crisis in the UK, couldn’t have been delayed to take into account the many ways in which all the subjects and conclusions of her five-year research have been forced centre stage by the coronavirus pandemic. She was in time to add an author’s note, written in March, acknowledging that a system already stretched to breaking point by staff shortages and relentless budget cuts has buckled under the onslaught of the current crisis. She expresses a hope that the pandemic will “trigger a massive cultural shift in which we come to recognise the foundations of care on which all human wellbeing rests”.

Labours of Love is an inescapably political book, in both the Westminster and the broader sense. The decade of cuts inflicted by the coalition and then Conservative governments since 2010 in the name of austerity makes for grim statistics on the funding of social care, and the Brexit vote in 2016 led to a dramatic shortage of care workers and nurses from the EU (nurses registering to work in the UK fell by 96%). But Bunting also considers the history and concept of care in a wider context as a feminist issue, because it’s impossible to do otherwise. Care is perhaps the feminist issue, something else the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief. But caring for those who are dependent – children, the sick, the disabled, most pertinently the elderly – has long been undervalued and overlooked precisely because it is dismissed as “women’s work”, the sort of home-based drudgery from which second-wave feminism promised to liberate women. As a result, Bunting writes, care has been “largely abandoned by liberal feminism”.

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