How are care migration and care mobilities transforming welfare states? Lise Widding Isaksen in this text discusses the various ways in which stretched and transnational care mobilities have become a part of the responses to the unfolding crises of care.
Lise Widding Isaksen is a sociologist who works as a Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Bergen. Her research interests are in the ways the nexus of state-market-family/civil society shapes positionalities and trajectories in labor markets with a particular focus on gender, ethnicity and migration. She has over several decades published extensively on these issues and one of her latest publications is a co-edited book from 2022: Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, central, and East European Welfare states.
This text is a part of the miniseries following up on the Crises of Care event organized by GRIP in collaboration with the Centre for Care Research west (HVL). This miniseries include texts that were presented at the event and engages with wider explorations of labour and inequality topic that GRIP currently focuses on.
According to recent research on precarious work, care and service work is now among the most precarious jobs in the world. Its forms vary across countries, and in Nordic and European contexts relations between different welfare regimes and markets are central to the experience of precarious work. The European Parliament writes:
‘Women in the Global North are disproportionally represented in precarious jobs that are in low-paid, caregiving, domestic and service sector. This type of work is also often part-time, reflecting the demands on women to balance service work and their family responsibilities. In this context, the ‘double burden’ for women is especially stark where work is in caregiving service sector, and family life is about care at home (European Parliament, 2020, p.30-33).
Women’s ‘double burden’ is here mainly related to unpaid, informal care work in their own local families. However, women increasingly also work as paid care givers for families in other countries, where they are employed to care for help-dependent elderly living at home. In our new book, ‘Care Loops and Mobilities and Nordic, Central and Eastern European Welfare States’ (Näre & Isaksen (eds), 2022) we explore how these local and transnational care mobilities are related to transforming welfare states.
Care Mobilities and Care Loops
While the production of public care services still is of great importance, informal care solutions, like paid domestic care work, are increasing greatly. Informal care services, such as au pairs and nannies, housemaids and elder care workers, are socially accepted and a preferred care practice especially for middle class families in more affluent countries. We have studied local complexities of care with a focus on daily care loops between home, kindergarten and workplaces and care mobilities among care workers in home-to-home services to elderly. Approaching care mobilities as daily care loops introduces an interactionist perspective aimed to shed light on complex social relations that carers are parts of during the day. It is a concept oriented towards research on care mobilities as everyday activities embedded in socially stratified, gendered, and racialized structures.
For example, political reforms in the Hungarian welfare state reduced women’s pensions, which resulted in increased poverty among women in their 60s. For many affected women solution was to cross the border to Germany or Austria to do paid care work for home-bound elderly there. This illustrates how daily care loops changed from having been locally embedded in women’s family and social community to being a part of cross-border mobilities that stretched relations between home and work (Gabriel, 2022). The daily ‘patchwork’ activities, i.e., practices that are simultaneously routinized activities, but also changing from day to day depending on time, money, local geographies, and distances that need to be connected to the care loops, change context and substance, and become parts of contracted work descriptions.
A general trend in our studies of eight transforming welfare states is re-familiarization, and politics aimed to construct, what we define as, ‘caregiver pools’. A caregiver pool is a social and political idea based on demographic dependency rations. For instance, the idea that a growing number of elderly people in populations will create care deficits, an imbalance between demand and support of care. One of the political strategies to address this could be a lowering of women’s’ retirement age in order to invest in grandmothers’ and adult daughters’ capacity to care for help-dependent family members, like has been done in Poland and Czech Republic (Radziwinowiczówna & Rosińska, 2022). Such constructions of caregiver pools perceive female family members as ‘a free good’ and represent a return to essentialist ideas of (some groups of) women as carers for nation-states.
Today, caregiver pools are socially stratified, gendered, transnational and racialized. Other responses to public and private care deficits and budget cuts can be demands for cheaper labor. For example, Slovenian elder care benefit from an increased cross-border care worker mobilities between Croatia and Slovenia in which Croatian (most Bosnian) care workers are lower paid and have harder working conditions than Slovenian care workers (Hrženjak, 2022). Finnish elder care institutions, on the other hand, recruit care workers from the Global South (Philippines) to work on precarious conditions (Näre & Isaksen, 2022). Also Swedish and Norwegian middle-class families outsource daily stress and time-binds related to care loops to Philippine nannies and au pairs as a response to imbalances between corporative job demands and childcare’s opening hours (Eldèn & Anving, 2022; Isaksen & Bikova, 2022).
Local and transnational care mobilities are, as a response to the care crisis, stretched and transnational. Even if Nordic societies for the time being have a crisis management that relies mainly on local care production within public welfare state frames, imbalances between demand and supply of care workers bring with it increasing interests for global solutions and thus an increase in an expansion of transnational caregiver pools.
Eldén, S., Anving, T. (2022). ‘Quality Time’ in Nanny Families: Local Care Loops and New Inequalities in Sweden. In: Näre, L., Isaksen, L.W. (eds) Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
European Parliament (2020). Precarious work from a gender and intersectionality perspective, and ways to combat it. PE 662.491.
Gábriel, D. (2022). Hungarian Migrant Care Workers Between Local and Cross-Border Care Loops. In: Näre, L., Isaksen, L.W. (eds) Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Hrženjak, M. (2022). Trapped in the Institution: Governing the Covid-19 Epidemic in Slovenian Eldercare Homes from the Perspective of Care Micro-Mobilities. In: Näre, L., Isaksen, L.W. (eds) Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Isaksen, L.W., Bikova, M. (2022). Lunchrooms in the Care Loops: Filipino Au Pair Migrants Between Hierarchy and Equality in Norway. In: Näre, L., Isaksen, L.W. (eds) Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Näre, L., & Widding Isaksen, L. (eds.) (2022). Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Radziwinowiczówna, A., Rosińska, A. (2022). Neoliberalization of Familialism by Default: The Case of Local Organization of Elder Care in Poland. In: Näre, L., Isaksen, L.W. (eds) Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Souralová, A. (2022). Care Loops Under One Roof: Multigenerational Living, Grandmothers, and Intergenerational Puzzles of Caring Responsibilities in the Czech Republic. In: Näre, L., Isaksen, L.W. (eds) Care Loops and Mobilities in Nordic, Central, and Eastern European Welfare States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Image: Photo by Roberto Bonvallet, Flickr. License: CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic | Creative Commons
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