Symposium 1- The political economy of care for children and older adults in times of crisis

Convenors: Prof Eva Lloyd, UEL and Dr Amy Horton, UCL

In this symposium four speakers interrogate the impact of Covid-19 on both adult social care and early care and education in England, in Europe and beyond, and explore options for the future. Dr Sara Farris (Goldsmith College, University of London) examines how racialised female care workers have been exploited during the pandemic. Dr Amy  Horton (University College London) presents data from a new study on the impact of different forms of care home ownership on care services and the employment conditions of care workers. Ivana La Valle (University of East London) reports on a 2022 study of the pandemic’s impact on children’s development, on their access to early care and education, and on mothers’ employment and mental health. Professor Eva Lloyd (University of East London) highlights how Covid-19 exacerbated sustainability risks within the rapidly growing corporate childcare sector, while discussant, Dr Kate Hardy (University of Leeds) critiques the presentations’ suggestions for transforming care and their applicability beyond Britain. 

Paper 1 Corporate care and racialised workers in times of crisis.  Dr Sara Farris (Goldsmith)

This paper discusses the results of a project on the growing presence of large corporations in elderly care and child-care. Drawing on qualitative interviews with adult social care workers in France and Italy, and on desk-review in the UK, it shows the strategies corporations use to save on labour costs and increase profits for shareholders. These companies’ reliance upon a largely female racialised workforce that can be hired for low wages, appears to be one of the main tactics used to reduce labour costs. The paper intervenes on debates on care and social reproduction feminism to show that we need to be careful to the new forms in which care is marketized and commodified and what the implications are for gender orders and class exploitation.

Paper 2 Splintering social infrastructures: Financial pressures on the social purpose of non-profit care homes. Dr Amy Horton (UCL)

Internationally, interest is rising in different forms of ownership of care homes, and how these may affect the quality of services and of employment. This paper is based on findings from a study of care homes for older people in the UK during Covid-19. Some charitable providers faced a dilemma between either pursuing a social purpose (accepting new residents without significant assets) or offering what they saw as good jobs to staff, funded by relatively high private fees. I argue that the political economy of care conditions social infrastructures across different ownership models. 

Paper 3 A Covid generated childcare crisis in England. Ivana La Valle (UEL)

A Nuffield Foundation study on the impacts of the pandemic on early childhood education and care (ECEC) shows a system in crisis where children’s access to ECEC can still be influenced by their parents’ socio-economic circumstances, rather than their development needs and their right to early education, and where lack of access to ECEC services is a barrier to work, particularly for less affluent mothers. As well as exploring these challenges the presentation will outline lessons from the pandemic to build a better and more resilient ECEC system.

Paper 4 A sustainability crisis for English for-profit childcare. Prof Eva Lloyd (UEL)

In 2022 a UCL based research team published a Nuffield Foundation funded study which traced developments in the English childcare market over the last twenty years. National and international for-profit-childcare companies, with complex financial structures, increasingly came to dominate this market. Relying heavily on private equity investors,  and fuelling expansion through mergers and acquisitions, while carrying major debts, their sustainability is at risk. The pandemic exacerbated this risk, which is less for not-for-profits.