Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Care never comes free

Yesterday's Dominion Post reported that the Ministry of Health's senior lawyer, deputy solicitor-general Cheryl Gwyn, has told the Court of Appeal that paying parents to care for their disabled adult children could harm family relationships.

Avoiding commercialising the care relationship and not making families reliant on the caregiving income were "reasonable objectives of the ministry's policy not to pay family members to take care of disabled relatives...The core of the Health Ministry policy is to pay for filling the gaps in unpaid 'natural support' usually from family."

The Ministry of Health is appealing two earlier rulings, from the Human Rights Review Tribunal and the High Court, that the policy unjustifiably discriminates on the basis of family status. Some of the parents who took the original case are eligible for a domestic purposes benefit, but at least one is not eligible and another receives superannuation while caring for adult children.
Read the rest of the report here.

So - if you have children who are disabled, mentally, physically, or both, to such an extent that they require lifelong care, that is simply all part of the "natural support" parents can be expected to provide, without recompense - only in this case, it lasts for the rest of their lives.

If they meet the criteria for a welfare benefit, they will get one, but that's all. If they would or could not care for the child, someone else would of course have to be paid to do it. But the parents mustn't be paid - because that would risk harming family relationships???

Exactly what does the Ministry think paying parents would make them do? Refuse to let their adult child go to daycare groups (if there are any) so they can get paid more? Join a union and work to rule? Disable their children on purpose to get the money (just like all those young women who get pregnant "on purpose" to get the DPB?)

What the Ministry lawyers are really saying is that paying for care is too expensive. They're desperately trying to justify expecting family members to go on providing it "for free" or at best for a pittance, regardless of the burdens it imposes on them - including, for many, perpetual poverty. Only care is never free.

Of course both men and women care for adult children. The press report featured Cliff Robinson, 75, who has cared for his two intellectually disabled children, now in their 40s, for 36 years. But the fact that he doesn't get paid goes right back to the conviction that caregiving is what women do for free.

They exist to give whatever care is needed in return for nothing more than their bed and board, paid for by a husband or, if absolutely necessary, the state. It's what they're for. And any men who take on this role will be treated like women.

It could, of course, get worse. Maybe Health could join forces with Social Development to harry these parents (well, the ones under 65, anyway) out to work, along with all the other beneficiary parents whose kids turn 14 (because you can legally leave them home alone then, eh).

But this won't happen - well, not as long as parents don't get paid. Their care is not only the best, it's by far the cheapest.


Lucy said...

They exist to give whatever care is needed in return for nothing more than their bed and board, paid for by a husband or, if absolutely necessary, the state. It's what they're for. And any men who take on this role will be treated like women.

This seems like an opportune moment to mention the US Census Bureau's conviction that when fathers in two-parent households look after children, it's childcare; when mothers do it, it's parenting.

anthea said...

I'm with you all the way on this until your last sentence. I'm sure in many cases care provided by parents is the best option, but in others it isn't. Leaving aside clear cases of abuse, many disabled people don't want to live with their parents for the same reasons non-disabled people, or disabled people who don't require that level of support, do. Sometimes living with parents is a great option, sometimes it's horrific, sometimes it's the best of a not great range of alternatives.

To me one of the main problems with this lack of funding is that it puts excessive pressure on such disabled people to live with parents when they may not otherwise want to, and makes it easier for the government to continue to provide a really shit range of alternatives. The other thing is that if you treat care of disabled adults like that of children financially, that carries with it an expectation of what the caregiver relationship is going to look like. Sending your 5 year old to bed at x o'clock so you get time with your partner/to watch a movie/catch up on housework, but quite another to do the same to a thirty year old.

So I think it's important to draw attention to the gendered nature of caregiving, and the massive amounts of unpaid work our society relies on. But I also think it's important to centre the rights of the disabled people involved - and the two don't tend to be in opposition (far from it, in fact).

AnneE said...

Good point, Anthea, thanks for this.

Moz said...

Note that relief carers, if available, will be paid. Just to rub in the nastiness.

One aspect is the huge gulf between the care that intellectually able disabled people get with the care that less able people get. We have had care workers as housemates and the different standards applied to someone like Stephen Hawking who is very smart but physically very limited, and someone who can't convey their wants/needs is dramatic. Especially if the smart one can work at all, they get treated more like an adult (viz, their wishes are more likely to be respected). But get labelled "intellectually not an adult" and watch all the usual physical problems get magnified by "just sit quietly or I will drug you into insensibility".