Care in an Age of Austerity: Men's Care Responsibilities in Low-Income Families

Anna Tarrant
2017 Ethics and social welfare  
Drawing on data from linked qualitative longitudinal (QL) datasets, this paper considers the under-researched impacts of economic crisis and austerity, on men from different familial generational positions, with care responsibilities for young children in lowincome families. Recent debates indicate that recession and austerity provide the conditions for care arrangements in which low-income fathers are more likely to engage, producing 'caring masculinities'. However, austerity is also deepening
more » ... everyday hardships for citizens, as care responsibilities are further entrenched as the private responsibilities of individual families. This 'responsibilisation' of care is producing numerous challenges for men, as evidenced in their discussions of their everyday caring practices. With reference to an ethics of care perspective and insights about processes of change and continuity in the austerity context, from men in lowincome families, including those that are kinship carers, it is argued that processes of welfare reform and self-responsibilisation are antithetical to the reworking of male identities as identities of care. The paper concludes that wider structural change and support for men to engage effectively and positively in care are required in order for these identities, and for men's critical engagement in gender equality, to flourish. This paper examines the gendered impacts and implications of the global economic recession in 2008, and subsequent austerity measures on families, that were implemented post-crisis in the UK. This is a context in which 'the welfare contract is being redrawn and the state is imposing new rules and expectations on low-income families in return for reduced, conditional and tightly regulated financial support' (Ridge, 2013, p. 406). In this context, shifting distributions of domestic labour within families, between men and women, and intergenerationally, are considered. Austerity has been acknowledged as a feminist issue (Feminist Fightback Collective, 2011), yet the situations and circumstances of men who provide care receive relatively limited attention compared to women, who have been worst affected by processes of welfare reform in the aftermath of the crisis (e.g. McKay et al. 2013; Miller & Nash, 2016). Data from linked qualitative longitudinal (QL) datasets spanning more than ten years provide the empirical basis for this paper. This time frame captures the initial impacts of the global economic recession on low-income families in 2008 and its longer-term effects in the UK. The data provide insights into the familial relations, responsibilities and austerity driven hardships of men in low-income families, and capture broader processes of continuity and change. Recent scholarship about fatherhood indicates that there has been an increase in male care giving by fathers in low-income families (e.g. Dermott, 2016; Smith, 2009). The QL data presented here, include such men, but additionally include men who are kinship carers for young children, including brothers, uncles and grandfathers. This is a relatively invisible population providing care for children when their parents are unable to do so. Particular attention is paid to their narratives about their care responsibilities, their lived experiences of economic 3 upheaval and change, and their views on the implications and impacts of austerity. The findings highlight the contradiction that while austerity is increasingly providing the conditions in which men are required to provide care, this is occurring in a policy context producing intensifying material hardships for families. This is especially problematic when considered within an established debate that suggests that conditions of economic hardship and deprivation are more likely to produce masculinities and intimate relations that are antithetical to care (Izugbara, 2015; Meth, 2015). The paper begins by linking three debates that explain the macro level dynamics providing the backdrop to men's contemporary care experiences and patterns of care. This includes how austerity permeates everyday family life; changing landscapes of care; and the links between caring masculinities and a feminist ethics of care. Following discussion of the methodology and the empirical evidence drawn upon to explore men's individual iterations of their care responsibilities, the data analysis is presented, highlighting how austerity measures are deepening hardships and impinging on men's experiences of caring. Caring masculinities and changing familial relations in austere times
doi:10.1080/17496535.2017.1413581 fatcat:f37zo5kgazasxadmhslbgh425y