Jeremy Hunt. Photo: Flickr/Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt. Photo: Flickr/Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Jeremy Hunt saying that the NHS doesn’t need more funding suggests his idea of a solution is more unpaid labour for working class women argues Kevin Ovenden

Jeremy Hunt saying in parliament that Italy and Spain spend less on social care than Britain but seem to have better outcomes.

There is an element of truth. But due to three things:

1Less privatisation in the system

2Less of the neoliberalisation of society, but that leading to contradictory effects – one of which is,

3The greater salience of the traditional nuclear – and extended – family, with less geographical mobility and greater dependence on intra-family, intergenerational mechanisms for social care of elderly and care of children (which is also huge in Britain).

Greece also shows the double impact of the family. The fact that industrialisation came later, and also the neoliberal rupturing of social bonds, means that it is the family structure which has mitigated the social disaster of the austerity years.

People survive through younger generations getting a portion of the meagre pension of the older, and the older being cared for by the younger. That includes personal care in hospitals.

But who does this unpaid work fall on? Upon working people in general, and overwhelmingly upon women. It also means that the other side of the family and its ideology is strengthened, to the detriment of those who for whatever reasons reject traditional sex and family roles.

So you have both a safety net and the imposition of oppressive structures – all to the benefit of capital that does not have to cede anything from its profits towards meeting working class needs, old and young.

In invoking Spain and Italy (and he could add Greece, eastern Europe and many migrant/immigrant communities in Britain) Hunt is not taking aim at the profiteering corporations in the social care system and the need for both better funding and a nationalised system.

He is intimating towards a solution that depends upon a huge increase in unpaid labour of women, of working class women in particular and more burdens put on all in the family of all generations.

The private providers of care for a minority would still make a fortune, employing underpaid women who themselves have to shoulder more of the burden in their own families of looking after relatives.

This touches on the epochal issues around sex, class, women’s oppression and the crisis of neoliberal capitalism.

There should be big thinking and a big response from the left over this. The British Labour Party would do well to go in that direction and engage with millions in finding a just solution – not tickboxing and tokenism.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.