Closing long-standing gaps in care services could create almost 300 million jobs by 2035, according to a new International Labour Organization (ILO) report. The expansion of universal access to care would also make massive strides toward gender equality.

The report, Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender-equal world of work, offers a global overview of national laws, policies and practices on care, including maternity, paternity, parental, child and long-term care. It builds the case for transformative change to the global care system.

For example in Europe, more than 76 million people, or nearly 13 per cent of the continent’s population, provide care to their families or friends by giving up their time for work or for leisure, and the need for care—particularly to support older persons and those with disabilities—has been rising steeply because of increased life expectancy and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the study finds that access to services such as residential care, community day services and in-home care, remains inaccessible to the great majority of those who need them world-wide, although “long-term care services are essential to ensure the right to healthy ageing in dignity.” Globally 84.2 per cent of the total population lives in countries where long-term services are not universal and free, affecting 205 million older persons.

The burden of filling these “care gaps” for the elderly, disabled and children falls disproportionately on women creating a care crisis that push many women to leave the labour force or not enter it at all. Two years ago saw a reversal of the job gains that women in the US earned since the 2008 global financial crisis. Latin America reported an 18-year setback for women. 

“A greater investment in care services contributes to gender equality by providing working women support in their caring responsibilities. It also creates additional employment opportunities for women. Roughly 90 per cent of the long-term care workforce is women. Additionally, men benefit from caring,” said Adrian Durtschi, Head of UNI’s Care sector. “However, we must make sure that jobs we create in the care sector are good jobs with safe conditions, union rights and liveable wages.”

The ILO calculates that by a global reinvestment in care would create 96 million direct jobs in childcare, 136 million direct jobs in long-term care and 67 million indirect jobs in non-care sectors.

“Plugging these care gaps should be seen as an investment that not only supports health and livelihoods but fundamental rights, gender equity and greater representation too,” said Manuela Tomei, Director, ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department.