Regular readers of my column will recall a number of occasions when I have ranted about the failings of gross domestic product as a measure of success and the dangers of skewing economic policies in pursuit of growth alone. I realise I’m preaching to the converted in the charity sector, because by definition you understand that our society is not built on profit alone.
So I was pretty excited when Sandi Toksvig delivered the annual Adam Smith economics lecture earlier this year and talked about "Grossly Undervalued Domestic Product". This combines two of my passions: drawing attention to rubbish economic theory and gender equality.
She argued that if we fail to acknowledge or measure the value of work in the home – the caring, support and childcare – then we will continue to undervalue and underinvest in areas that are important to our society. Such underinvestment also amplifies and perpetuates social and gender inequality. She quoted the shocking statistic that eight white men now own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population, with women disproportionately represented in the poorest populations.
It is tempting to label this as a developing economy issue. It is not. Research from 2017 showed that women in the UK have borne 86 per cent of the burden of austerity since 2010, and it’s not just unpaid labour in the home. The caring sectors, often culturally "female" careers, are increasingly under-resourced. Toksvig asked why policymakers prioritise physical infrastructure, for example construction, over social infrastructure, such as nurses, especially when research demonstrates a better return on investment in terms of job creation from the latter.
So how to respond? Making the workplace more compatible with caring responsibilities in the home and reducing the burden of childcare costs could provide a much needed boost to society as carers in the home are given the choice to pursue other work. This could boost economic wellbeing for individuals, while also raising tax revenues and contributing to a diverse workforce. Different experiences and perspectives provide diversity of thought in organisations, improving outcomes and preventing groupthink. Breaking away from the gendered career lenses helps everyone.
And don’t I know it. I work in the City, rarely styled as a caring profession, and often stereotyped by the Gordon Gekko pinstriped suit and testosterone-filled trading floors. But that’s not the workplace that I am in. The reality is very different from the perception. I work part-time, some days from home, take extra days off around my kids’ school holidays and am supported when my childcare plans fail. It’s all part of a drive to attract the best people and broaden thinking, through embracing flexible and part-time working and reducing unconscious bias.
This positive action to promote diversity is becoming more commonplace. But we need to combine such "micro" efforts with broader-reaching "macro" recognition of the contribution of unpaid or low-paid labour to our society. Identifying Grossly Undervalued Domestic Product might be the first step.
Kate Rogers is head of policy at Cazenove Charities