The looking after of children is still seen as a private matter rather than a public good. But how does society function without it?
From precarity in the gig economy to underfunding in the NHS, coronavirus has brutally exposed the weaknesses of our economy. Some hoped that school and nursery closures would prompt a similar lightbulb moment in relation to childcare. Without paid care and education, the formal economy would grind to a halt. Everyone would realise how utterly dependent we are on childcare, both paid and unpaid. Pressure would grow to address the chronic underfunding of early years provision and the poor pay and conditions of childcare workers, and to recognise the burden of care work in the home.
So far, the opposite has been true. The very same issues that always leave care work undervalued and invisible have ensured it remains so during lockdown. Childcare is still regarded as a private matter rather than a public good. The burdens of lockdown childcare have been quietly absorbed in the home, disproportionately by women, who flock to Facebook groups with names like “Family lockdown tips and ideas”. Families have been left to navigate the resulting financial and mental strains as best they can. Privately, governments and employers both know that unpaid childcare is essential and demanding work, and that the scale of it has just exploded. Publicly, they must pretend this work does not exist, since they have no appetite to properly support it.