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20 JAN 2020

Oxfam: Global unpaid care work valued at US$10.8 trillion annually – more than three times the size of the world’s tech industry

The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 per cent of the planet’s population, reveals a new report from Oxfam today ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

Global inequality is shockingly entrenched and vast, and the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade. Oxfam’s report, ‘Time to Care’, shows how our sexist economies are fuelling the inequality crisis—enabling a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes at the expense of ordinary people, particularly poor women and girls:  

•    The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.
•    Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day—a contribution to the global economy of at least US$10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.
•    Getting the richest one per cent to pay just 0.5 per cent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health. This could help lift the responsibility of care from women and tackle poverty and inequality. 

‘Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system. They spend billions of hours cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly. Unpaid care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies moving. It is driven by women who often have little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how our societies are run, and who are therefore trapped at the bottom of the economy,’ Amitabh Behar, the Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam India who is in Davos to represent the Oxfam confederation this year, said. 
Women do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work. They often have to work reduced hours or drop out of the workforce because of their care workload. Across the globe, 42 per cent of women of working age cannot get jobs because they are responsible for all the caregiving, compared to just six per cent of men.

Women also make up two-thirds of the paid ‘care workforce’. Jobs such as nursery workers, domestic workers, and care assistants are often poorly paid, provide scant benefits, impose irregular hours, and can take a physical and emotional toll.

The pressure on carers, both unpaid and paid, is set to grow in the coming decade as the global population grows and ages. An estimated 2.3 billion people will be in need of care by 2030—an increase of 200 million since 2015. Climate change could worsen the looming global care crisis—by 2025, up to 2.4 billion people will live in areas without enough water, and women and girls will have to walk even longer distances to fetch it.
At the same time, governments are underfunding vital public services and infrastructure that could help reduce women and girls’ workload. For example, providing access to an improved water source could save women in parts of Zimbabwe up to four hours of work a day, or two months a year. 
Inequality in Hong Kong is no better. According to the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient in 2016 (based on original monthly household income) was 0.539 – the highest in 45 years. According to the data Forbes published in 2019, the 50 richest people in Hong Kong’s assets amounted to HK$2.23 trillion, an 18 per cent increase from August 2016. 

Further, many women are still trapped in poverty due to their family responsibilities. According to Census and Statistic Department, among poor households in Hong Kong, women’s labour force participation rate only accounts for 20.7 per cent (compared to 35.5 per cent among men), which is 30.1 percentage points lower than the 50.8 per cent rate among women from the average household. The female labour force participation rate further drops to 10.8 per cent if there are children aged 15 or below and seniors aged 65 or above in poor households. This indicates that women in poor households cannot find employment because they have to take care of their families.

Oftentimes, women from poor households can only work part-time jobs. This limits their career choices, and a lot of them end up taking up casual work that only pay meagre wages and offer little to no protection. Despite this, the Hong Kong government has still failed to provide them with adequate labour protection. 

According to the Employment Ordinance, being employed under a continuous contract refers to an employee who has been employed continuously by the same employer for four weeks or more, with at least 18 working hours per week. An employee must be employed under a continuous contract and fulfil various requirements as stipulated in the Ordinance to be eligible for employee benefits other than the basic protections such as rest days, statutory holidays, annual leaves, paid maternity leaves, sickness allowance, severance payment and long service payment. Casual workers are also known as non-418 employees, as they work continuously for the same employer for fewer than four weeks and/or fewer than 18 working hours per week.

Although the Hong Kong Government has recently introduced various policies to alleviate poverty, the low public recurrent expenditure will not help improve the situation of these women. According to the latest figures from Hospital Authority, patients must now wait an average of 70 and 68 weeks respectively to see an orthopaedic doctor and internist at a public hospital. Further, figures from the Social Welfare Department shows the average waiting time for Care-and-Attention places and Nursing Home places is 20 and 22 months respectively. Moreover, Oxfam calculated that on average, only 1 in 156 children aged 0 to 2 received subsidised full-day childcare services. With insufficient public services available, carers in Hong Kong are placed at an even greater disadvantage.

Kalina Tsang, Director of Oxfam’s Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan Programme said: ‘Governments created the inequality crisis—they must act now to end it. They must ensure corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of tax and increase investment in public services and infrastructure. They must formulate policies to tackle the huge amount of care work done by women and girls, and ensure that people who do some of the most important jobs in our society are paid a living wage. Governments must prioritise care as being as important as all other sectors in order to build more human economies that work for everyone, not just a fortunate few.’

Notes to editors

The report, executive summary, methodology document explained how Oxfam calculated the figures.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the share of wealth come from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Databook 2019. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ 2019 Billionaires List.

Oxfam is part of the Fight Inequality Alliance, a global coalition of civil society organizations and activists that will be holding events from 18-25 January in 30 countries, including India, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda and the UK, to promote solutions to inequality and demand that economies work for everyone. 
About Oxfam
Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilises the power of people against poverty.

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