A UCU union strike rally last April (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Almost two-thirds of women’s working hours each week are unpaid and “ignored” by official statistics measuring economic activity. This means women are left short-changed and pushed deeper into poverty, according to charity Oxfam.

The way the government records economic activity means unpaid care carried out by women is invisible in the formal economy and not valued. Unpaid care includes looking after children or sick adults, or domestic work such as cooking and cleaning.

Data from the International Labour Organisation says 45 percent of the total number of hours worked weekly around the world by men and women are in unpaid care work. These are not counted in gross domestic product (GDP) calculations. 

For women alone, 65 percent of weekly working hours globally are unpaid. Oxfam has called to move “beyond GDP”. This is how states measure their economic growth, based on the value of goods and services produced.

Oxfam said GDP is “anti-feminist and colonial because it sustains a framework of value creation and productivity that only counts what can be monetised”. GDP has “become the yardstick against which all economic progress is measured” and its “limited focus reflects the narrow-minded, Eurocentric and outdated framing that shaped its creation”.

“It is high time for a reboot that reflects the reality and the needs of society today,” Oxfam added.

The Office for National Statistics has said it is “working on radical plans to go ‘beyond GDP’”. This includes “new and innovative metrics reflecting the impact of economic change on people and the environment”.

A report last year by the Centre for Progressive Policy think tank found women in Britain provide more than twice as much unpaid childcare per year as men. That’s 23.2 billion hours compared with 9.7 billion hours. 

But the solution isn’t to move away from GDP—it’s to move away from a system that relies on the unpaid work of women.

Anam Parvez, Oxfam’s head of research, said “Women are being short-changed the world over, pushed deeper into time and income poverty. To add insult to injury, the majority of their work is ignored by official statistics.

“Unpaid care is a hidden subsidy to the global economy—without it the system would collapse.” Parvez added, “Those who experience intersecting inequalities, such as racial discrimination, are particularly impacted.

“Women are expected to act as shock absorbers, cushioning the impact of austerity and other harmful policies through their unpaid labour.”

Parvez said government policies and budgets “should be guided by a set of metrics that look at the whole picture, including closing the divide between the richest and the rest, instead of relentlessly pursuing growth for its own sake”.

Meanwhile, the Tories have defended their use of GDP. “One of the prime minister’s five priorities is to grow the economy, this is the best way to deliver prosperity, better-paying jobs and increase productivity,” a government spokesperson said.

The figures highlight the double burden of paid and unpaid work that women face under capitalism—and how deeply sexist the system is.


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