Valuing a caring society – as long as it doesn’t rock the super yacht

Last week at a meeting hosted by Eurocarers and the European Parliament, I had the privilege of hearing the story of an incredible woman. Jane Johnstone is a single mother caring for two adult sons with disabilities, and she spoke of the isolation she felt during the COVID-19 pandemic: from experiencing a sudden loss of daily support services, to anxiety around giving COVID to her boys as she wasn’t deemed an ‘essential (paid) worker’ entitled to early access to the vaccine. Her story resonated with so many.

Jane was still on my mind when the Pandora Papers story broke over the weekend. The contrast is surreal. On the one hand, you have someone trying to have her experiences seen and heard in a world where she and her boys are invisible. On the other hand, you have the powerful elite who do everything they can to hide. To not be seen or heard. Who justify holding their wealth offshore to avoid paying taxes as being perfectly legal. One fights to create change within a system that continues to push her to the side lines, the other remains silent and complicit, benefiting from a system that continues to keep them untouchable. Our fight for social justice is so very real.

Havens for some means hell for others

The amount of untaxed billions that are being spent offshore is mind boggling, as the super-rich collect super yachts, private islands, and sprawling properties. We’ve heard that corporate tax avoidance in the EU has been valued somewhere around €160-190 billion by the European Parliament. So reading about the tax scandals of the privileged 1% leaves a particularly nasty taste after we’ve been told repeatedly that it’s because of a lack of funds that our governments can’t invest more in social infrastructure.

Clapping for carers and first responders lifted spirits during dark times. But if leaders are serious about prioritising and valuing care, they absolutely must start investing in the sector, including through reforming our broken tax systems. Not only would this improve working conditions that have suffered due to COVID, it would also create up to 10.5 million new jobs by 2050 to help take the pressure off informal carers, while reaping huge economic benefits. This is even more important as we need to make sure that our systems value and care for the EU’s ageing population, with the Commission predicting an additional 11 million people needing long-term care by 2050. Given this demographic shift, allowing fiscal flexibility for social investment in areas like long-term care makes sense.

This is also why we want the upcoming European Care Strategy to speak to the realities faced by all carers across Europe. If done properly, the Strategy can give everyone access to the quality and affordable care, health care and social protection services that they need during their lives, without facing obstacles or red tape. It’s time to make it known that everyone in society is seen and valued for by allowing people like Jane to retire with peace of mind that we have the right community services and investment in place to support and care for her boys.