Unpaid GDP and the Wealth of Work in the Home

-By Joanna Roughton-

The HRF has been given the best Christmas gift imaginable.

It sounds dull, but like all the best presents, it may prove surprisingly useful.

Unpaid housework is to be officially recognised by Whitehall as a measurable part of the nation’s wealth.

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Cleaning, childcare, laundry. Ironing, eldercare, cooking. All the things that make a home run well, but which have been slighted and ignored by officialdom for decades.

But not any more. As previously noted by the BeHome blog The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that it will be able to put a figure on the value of unrecognised domestic toil and include it in the UK’s figures for Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The good news is that this may be as early as the summer of 2015.

The ONS has already made a stab at some preliminary projections. And, even for those of us who have long argued that the state needs to wake up and smell the statistical coffee when it comes to home-making – the numbers make quite a splash.

Take bringing up children. The ONS says unpaid childcare in 2010 – the latest year on which figures were based – was worth £343 billion. That is three times the contribution of Britain’s financial services industry! Wow.

What about household clothing and laundry. If we were to attribute the market rate for these ‘services’ they would be worth £97.2 billion annually to the country. That is about three times as much as the UK spends every year on defence.

The ONS says that to qualify for inclusion in the calculation then the chore must be something which could have been completed by an equivalent paid worker.

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Up until now when I do the school run, I do it for free. But now the state might consider how much I am saving for the exchequer. A child I know of, who is taken to and from school by taxi, costs the local council social services department about £30 a day. We always knew these figures would add up to a pretty colossal total – but really.

According to these early estimates, it is thought Britain’s unpaid economy will match the country’s entire GDP. You can see why policy-makers have been reluctant to give all these freely-given goods and services a value!

As Be Home has noted before, Britain’s dash for productivity, the desire to wring the last ounce of performance from every worker – including women who, hitherto, provided the glue which held society together – only plays to one side of an accountant’s ledger.

When mothers desert the home to work in a call centre, they give the GDP figures a little boost. But now we will see that the same action will also involve a debit. The ONS says the figure will be called Britain’s “unpaid gross domestic product”. It will be released by the middle of next year, alongside the conventional measure of economic activity.

The HRF’s chairman, Bryan Sanderson, called the announcement “an important step forward for building stronger links between policy and the work of the home, as well as raising awareness about the contributions of this work to economic and social life”.

That is spot on. Just how important this change turns out to be will take time to emerge. But, as we welcome 2015, we can do so confident in the knowledge that, for the first time in years, the state is preparing to give an authentic value to the work of the home. And once it has a value, who knows, the respect it deserves might just follow. Merry Christmas everyone.

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