Karen Buttigieg, Senior lecturer, Junior College, UoM.
Prof JosAnn Cutajar, Department for Gender and Sexualities, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, UoM.
Social expectations count on women, of whatever age, to take on caring roles when there are dependent children or relatives with severe chronic illness, there are children born with a disability or acquire one or there are mental illness issues. In the case of elderly relatives, families expect daughters or daughters-in-law to take on this role (Begley and Cahill, 2003). Troisi and Formosa (2004) found that in Malta the majority of informal carers are females aged between 40-59 years old.
Buttigieg (2020) underlined that the lack of male commitment is rarely questioned. In Malta, many women carers keep working and find ways of juggling their home and care commitments. Others have to give up their job, since they find it hard to cope with both. Unfortunately, they are not always in a position to benefit from a carer’s allowance. “To do so, a carer has to be a working-age single or married person taking care of a relative (spouse or parent; brother or sister; grandparent; uncle; aunt; father or mother-in-law or brother or sister-in-law) living within the same household according to the Social Security Act (Cap. 318). They can only access this allowance if a Multi-Disciplinary Board agrees that the person they are taking care of has a condition which falls within the medical parameters for payment of this allowance following an assessment based on the Barthel Index or the Mini-Mental State Examination” maintains the servizz.gov website. The allowance carers receive does not allow the person in question to be financially independent since the assumption is that they depend on the male breadwinner. Enabling carers to work helps them on a number of basis – it provides them with financial independence, while giving them a break from the stress of caring.
Buttigieg suggests the setting up of a register of informal carers in Malta, similar to the one in the UK and other places. In the UK, an informal carer includes any person, not only a family member. An informal carer can be a friend or neighbour who is giving regular, ongoing assistance to another person without payment. Without the unpaid input of these people, active aging in the community would not be a possibility and the state would have to fork out more money to take care of people in institutions.
Research conducted by SOS (Malta) has found that due to the lack of carer’s leave or flexible working conditions, a number of workers experience difficulties when juggling work and caring responsibilities (45.7%), use their vacation leave to provide care (28.3%), reduced working hours (15.2%), changed to a less demanding job (13%) or stopped working (10.9%) altogether.
Carers can also be parents – the parents of children of any age, including adults, who have severe mental or physical illness, children who are born with or acquire a disability. The working parents of these children also find it difficult to take time off work to take their children to medical or therapy appointments.
The EU Directive on Work-life balance 2019 proposes the introduction of carers’ leave for workers who provide personal care or support to a relative or person “living in the same household”. The Directive suggests that carers, who work, should be allowed to take five days off per year to enable them to do this. This, together with the right to request flexible working arrangements (reduced working hours, flexibility when it comes to working hours and place of work) will allow carers and working parents of children with a disability or dependent adults to continue working while taking care of dependents. Australia, on the other hand, provides carers who work with 10 days carer’s leave. In Italy, a carer is entitled up to three days paid leave per month. To avail of this leave, the carer does not necessarily need to live under the same roof as the person who needs to be cared for. The leave is taken on a daily basis and can be continuous or staggered.
The outgoing Consultative Council for Women’s Rights recommends that carer’s leave be extended to parents taking care of children with disability or mental illness of whatever age. And in order to encourage independent living for people with a disability and the elderly, the people who are being taken care of do not need to be living with the carer.