Equal Lives: Are some lives more equal than others?

We believe that in order to achieve gender equality in the workplace, we need to achieve gender equality at home. This is why Business in the Community, in partnership with Santander UK, launched the Equal Lives project, which aims to explore how men and women balance work and caring responsibilities.

However, it’s important for us to highlight that there isn’t just a difference between the experiences of men and women when it comes having an equal work-life balance. For example, a same-sex couple might face barriers with an organisation’s parental leave or adoption leave policies if they are not properly developed. A person from a BAME background might face a backlash at work over cultural expectations in terms of caring responsibilities. A single parent from a lower socio-economic background is likely to face pressures which typical, heteronuclear families will not understand. This is why we must talk about the intersectionalities of this issue.

When I say intersectionalities, I am referring to the overlap of different characteristics. This includes gender, but also race, class, age, disability, sexuality, wellbeing and so on. By taking an intersectional approach to the conversation on Equal Lives, we can begin to unpick some of the themes which might affect different groups of people. We can then begin to broaden our understanding of how to resolve some of the issues that prevail.

We already know that 10% of carers are from BAME backgrounds  and the majority of them are working age. Carers UK state that BAME carers face additional barriers, for example “cultural barriers, stereotypes and language which can increase the chances of poorer health, poverty and social exclusion.”  To add to this narrative, the majority of fathers from ethnic minority backgrounds felt that the most important role for them was breadwinning, whilst only a third of white fathers believed this.

Sexuality may also play an important part in fathering attitudes and practices. The LGBT Foundation states that “being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) person and a carer can bring about additional issues. One such worry may be that existing services to support you and the person that they care may not be LGBT friendly, or you may also feel uncomfortable about ‘coming out’ to people who can help.”  

Age is another significant factor when it comes to caring responsibilities. Of the 700,000 young carers in the UK, we know that 68% of them are bullied in schools. And of the older carers (aged 60–94), we know that 65% have long-term health problems or a disability themselves. We also know that 68.8% of older carers say that being a carer has an adverse effect on their mental health. It’s important not to forget the sandwich generation, generally those in their 30s and 40s, who often bear the responsibility of caring for their ageing parents as well as their children.

This is just the beginning of the conversation when it comes to taking an intersectional approach to caring responsibilities. There are nuances to consider which perpetuate these statistics further. We need to consider aspects such as level of seniority, average salary, economic background, relationship status, and so on for each of these intersections, which multiply to tell us the reality.

There is currently a shortage of research on this subject but it’s clear that the negative impacts are magnified for certain groups. This doesn’t mean we ignore the problem all together. George Orwell once said in Animal Farm: 'All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.' We must continue to strive for equal lives for all, not just a few.

The Equal Lives research will be published in September 2018 and will shed some much-needed light on this area.