Caring for our carers

Caring for our carers

Care. Barcelona wants to be a caring city, a city where people who care for children or dependent or ill people are recognised as the pillars of society that they are. Barcelona Cuida was created to care for them.

The growing power of feminist movements and the social emergency of the ageing population has brought to light the reality of care, which on the quiet, was and is the factor that sustains our society. It is the employment sector that guarantees human reproduction or, in the words of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), all those activities carried out in order to respond to the physical, psychological and emotional needs of one or more persons.

In families, care may be unpaid work and it is mostly carried out by women. It includes looking after children, dependent people and senior citizens. It may also be paid work in the formal economy, in situations relating to health or domestic work, for example, which are also highly feminised.

As part of its commitment to forming a more feminist city that is a better place to live for everyone, Barcelona City Council has set in motion a series of policies that focus on recognising care as a central part of city life, promoting the shared responsibility of all social stakeholders in guaranteeing the right to decent, high-quality care and reducing the social and gender inequalities that currently characterise it.

The recently inaugurated Barcelona Cuida [Barcelona Cares] centre is one of these municipal policies that aims to provide structure for the city’s available resources. An information and guidance centre that makes information about the existing resources for providing care available to city residents. However, it is also a place where people can exchange experiences and network.

Open doors for carers

In the words of its manager, Nieves Ávila, Barcelona Cuida, “responds to the increasing need for information and support caused by population ageing, the lack of a public dependence system that really takes the burden off family carers and the confirmation that the job insecurity of paid carers has increased rather than going down.

“The users of this centre that we focusing on primarily” continues Ms Ávila, “are unpaid family carers, paid carers and people receiving that care, although this last profile is not significant in terms of the number of requests received”.

“The job insecurity of the paid workers has increased, rather than decreasing”

The centre’s manager explains that “we don’t carry out processing or treatment, and we don’t duplicate the work done by the city’s social or health services. The idea is to help people get information in a coordinated way and form a mental map of what they have to do, what existing city procedures and services they have access to. We also offer some specialised advice, in areas such as workers’ rights and how to draw up a domestic-work contract.”

Training: something that carers need

One of the people who have come to the centre since it opened is Enrique Gustinza, a carer who was born in Peru and has been living in our city for over eighteen years, looking after people suffering from depression or dementia. He is a man, but he has suffered the same situations of semi-exploitation and invisibility as migrant and local women who live inside many homes in the city, taking care of our senior citizens and dependent people.

Professionalisation is an essential factor in progressing towards the provision of decent care

He came to Barcelona Cuida on the advice of the ACE Foundation, where he accompanied a sick senior citizen. Because Enrique wants to get training, and apart from his extensive experience in caring for elderly and ill men, he feels the need to further professionalise the care he offers, through specific training courses for carers. This is a clear example of someone who has the vocation to serve, who values his work, knows what is necessary and enjoys what he does.

“The training options they’ve offered me at Barcelona Cuida will help me to become even more skilled in caring for senior citizens and people with Alzheimer’s”, explains Enrique. “It’s what I do, and I want to learn even more”. The City Council considers the professionalisation and training of carers to be an essential factor for progressing towards the provision of decent care, for both the workers and the people who receive their care.

Paid work doesn’t mean decent work

Enrique’s case is typical of the disparity between the value society attributes to care and the real value of the people who provide it. The domestic-worker sector is characterised by a lack of any guarantees concerning basic rights. The fact that Spain’s has yet to ratify the ILO’s Convention 189 on Domestic Workers leaves them without some basic employment and social rights, such as unemployment and maternity benefits, occupational risks and the de facto existence of free dismissal.

The combination of another reality, the fact that domestic work is mostly taken on by immigrants, often in an illegal situation, is another factor of job insecurity and helplessness, which was dealt with by the Municipal Immigration Council in 2017 with its “Proposals for dignifying and raising awareness in the area of domestic work and care”.

Support with material and emotional resources

Humildad is an economist and the mother of five children. The simultaneous illnesses of her parents forced her to give up her job and professional career in order to look after them as their main carer. “Main carer”, because more people are needed to cover the 24-hour care that is needed by people suffering from Alzheimer’s, as with many other illnesses.

Since she took on these unpaid tasks, she has continually looked for ways forward, subsidies and emotional support in order to survive. Now that she can see the light at the end of the tunnel, she can explain it all, although her circumstances have not changed. “It’s like a gymkhana, a task that absorbs you, it takes you away from your partner, your children and especially yourself. It is what it is, and you have to fight to make sure you keep in good health. We are the backbone of our families and we have to look after ourselves as well”.

She came to Barcelona Cuida precisely because she thought it would be very interesting to find out about all the city’s resources in just one visit. “The City Council’s focus is balanced between society’s needs in terms of care and the resources available. They mustn’t duplicate, they mustn’t carry out tasks that are already being done by primary care or other organisations. Their job is just to inform and, above all, showcase what we are doing”, continues Humildad.

Barcelona Cuida organises talks so that the families of dependent people can share experiences

She is a user of one of these organisations, the Pasqual Maragall Foundation, which has been supporting her for some time, as well as the CAP public primary care services, which she congratulates for their efforts, in spite of their lack of human resources.

Nowadays, Humildad is one of the people who is asked by various groups to explain her experience. She has also been asked by Barcelona Cuida to take part in one of the centre’s talks for the families of dependent people. A line of work that, in addition to the personal attention it offers, provides families with an opportunity to exchange and share their experiences of the various stages of long illnesses.

Less feminised and less insecure

Unpaid care in families has traditionally been provided by women. The almost massive inclusion of women into the paid-employment market has not substantially changed this scenario and and it is still mostly the women of the family who take care of people who are dependent or ill and the children.

In 2017, the City Council put forward its Government Measure for Democratising Care in order to guarantee that everyone could be cared for and that the provision of care could be given in equitable conditions in society as a whole. The two areas in which municipal actions were carried out are recognising the central nature of care and the socialisation of responsibility for care.

Regarding support for unpaid family carers, among many other things, the Measure promotes collective housing, urban planning from a feminist perspective and community networks, as well as the development of a specific city strategy that contains a set of actions to be deployed in coming years and which are starting to come to fruition with the creation of Barcelona Cuida.