Global ‘care crisis’UN calls for extra £5tn to be spent by 2030

UN: spend an extra £5tn by 2030 to tackle global ‘care crisis’

Report highlights risk of rising inequality against women worldwide

Economics correspondent

An elderly Sikh woman is helped to her chair in a care home in Bradford.



An elderly Sikh woman is helped to her chair in a care home in Bradford.Photograph: Alamy

The world economy faces a looming “care crisis” risking further division between men and women across the planet, according to a UN report calling for governments and companies worldwide to spend at least an extra $7tn (£5.3tn) on care by 2030.

Making the case for spending on support for children, old people and the neediest in society to double by the end of the next decade, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned demographic changes alone mean the current path for care funding falls far short of requirements.

Failure would lead to gaps in coverage, while women – already responsible for more than three-quarters of the time spent on unpaid care work, looking after children or elderly relatives – would bear the brunt and find it harder to progress in their careers.

Rising birth rates and increased life expectancy mean there will be about 200 million extra people on the planet needing care by 2030, with as many as 2.3 billion forecast to need some form of support from governments, the private sector or friends and family, the ILO said. The bulk of the increase will come from African nations, although there are also rising needs in many major economies, including the UK.

Having ran macroeconomic forecasts for 45 countries’ spending needs, the ILO said the shifting demographic picture meant investment in care would need to rise from about 8.7% of GDP at present to 14.9% of projected world economic output by the end of the next decade. In cash terms, that would mean an increase of about $4tn to lift spending levels on care to about $14.9tn by 2030.

However, the stark analysis from the ILO called for governments to go further still by raising spending to 18.3% of projected GDP, or about $18.4tn. It said this “high road” option would create 269m extra jobs in the care industry, helping to alleviate the social pressure on unpaid care – typically shouldered by women.

The call from the UN agency comes after Theresa May promised to raise spending on the NHS by £20bn by 2024, while omitting to provide additional funds for social care. The UK government also delayed a green paper on older people’s social care until the autumn.

The ILO said its projections showed the UK would need to care for an additional 1 million people by 2030, with the total number of children and older people needing assistance forecast to rise to about 16 million from 15 million in 2015. It also warned against the use of zero hours contracts in Britain’s care sector for hitting workers’ living standards and undermining the quality of care they can provide.

Across the world, the social pressure to perform unpaid care work remains the main barrier preventing women from getting into and staying and progressing in the labour force. As many as 606 million working-age women in 2018 said they were not able to take a job because of unpaid care work, versus just 41 million men.

Laura Addati, lead author of the ILO report, said rising levels of employment for women in many countries was leading the demand for extra care workers and higher levels of funding.

“If not addressed properly, current deficits in care work and its quality will create a severe and unsustainable global care crisis and further increase gender inequalities in the world of work,” she said.