Why International Women’s Day matters to carers
The carers’ rights movement was founded by an inspirational woman: Rev. Mary Webster. In 1954, at the age of just 31, Mary was forced to give up her work as a congregational minister to care for her elderly parents. The pressures were not merely financial; Mary felt she was giving up her purpose and vocation, placing her under considerable strain.
Almost ten years later, Mary decided that enough was enough. In 1963, she wrote to the newspapers, calling for more support for single women balancing work with caring for older relatives. She famously compared her situation to being placed ‘under house arrest’.
Mary was overwhelmed by the flood of responses she received from other women who recognised her frustrations. Recognising that there was a need to organise her supporters, she founded the National Council for Single Women and Her Dependents in 1965.
Though Mary died tragically young at the age of 46, she left a powerful legacy. The National Council for Single Women and Her Dependents made considerable gains for carers, successfully campaigning for Dependant Relative Tax Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Invalid Care Allowance (now known as Carer’s Allowance).
Another inspirational woman of the carers’ movement was Judith Oliver. Judith cared for her disabled husband and recognised that support was needed for all carers. She set up a member-led carers’ organisation called the Association of Carers. The Association campaigned hard on carers’ issues, and was key to winning the right to Invalid Care Allowance for married as well as unmarried carers.
In the late 1980s, the Association of Carers merged with the National Council for Single Women and Her Dependents into the Carers National Association, which later became the national carers’ charity Carers UK.
Over 50 years after Rev. Mary Webster’s wrote to the newspapers, caring is still a pressing national issue affecting both men and women. There are now 6.5million carers in the UK, and almost three in five of us will take on a caring role at some point in our lives.
Whilst the carers’ rights movement originally focused on women, the gender divide between carers is now more evenly split; 58% of carers are female and 42% are male. However, women are still more likely to take on full-time caring or be ‘sandwich carers’ looking after both children and older relatives.
On International Women’s Day, we want to acknowledge the fantastic work of women like Rev Mary Webster who campaigned for carers rights. We also want to see more support and recognition for all carers.
We have come a long way from 1964, when the word ‘carer’ did not exist as it does today. But there is much more to do to ensure that carers and those they care for get the support they desperately need.
Learn more about women and caring
For more information and to join in with the International Women’s Day #PressForProgress campaign, visit www.internationalwomensday.com.
The History of the Carers Movement. Timothy Cook.