Britain’s home-makers are owed billions

By Joanna Roughton.

After years of prevaricating, I have given in.

Yes, dear reader, I have hired a cleaner. Just two hours a week, scarcely enough time to pick up the dirty clothes thrown onto the floor by six lazy schoolchildren, but another rifle pointed from the trenches at the monster of domestic squalor.

It’s amazing what a cleaner can do in a couple of hours. Totally focused on her job, her efforts put mine to shame.


Hitherto, I have avoided hiring a cleaner because of my previous experience. The cleaner was great. But seeing a pristine home transformed into something far messier in a matter of minutes, the moment the kids returned from school, was enough to put me off domestic help for years.

There was also the cost. The old cleaner came for three hours, three times a week. The new one will be with us weekly, and just for the two hours. She comes via an agency, who charge me £28 for two hours, of which £20 goes to the cleaner.

I thought about these modest sums in relation to the annual publication of unpaid work data by the Office for National Statistics.

This blog has heralded these figures before as the biggest step forward in home-making public relations for years.

And this year’s figures do not disappoint, as I’m about to relate. The only negative caveat is the almost total lack of follow-up in the national press.

So, the numbers then. The ONS values unpaid work done in the UK at £1 trillion. That is equivalent to about 56 per cent of the UK’s total GDP.

This includes every kind of household chore, from cooking to cleaning, from DIY to gardening. There is a gender bias to the results. The ONS found that women do twice the work men do around the home. On average, men do 16 hours a week of cooking, childcare, eldercare and housework – which includes things like laundry and cleaning. For women the figure rises to 26 hours.

The only family activity where men outperform women is where ‘dad’s taxi’ is concerned. Menfolk spend more time than women ferrying children around. They also spend more time commuting, which is deemed by the ONS to be unpaid work, and so included in the overall data.

This year’s figures do include an eye-catching and potentially very useful statistical innovation. The ONS has launched an ‘unpaid work calculator’, designed to help people work out the value of all the unpaid labour they provide.

Using this calculator, one hour of housework is equivalent to £8.58 a week or £446 a year. One hour of childcare is calculated to be worth £15.28 per week or £795 per annum. Meal preparation comes in at £7.63, or £397. Transport, be that taking a toddler to a playdate or commuting to work, is said to be worth £11.24 or £584.

I’m not sure I could hire a taxi for £11.24 per hour, but the broad point is useful.

The ONS says its calculator is based on data from earnings across the UK workforce in 2016 and is based on the principle of what one would pay someone to do the job instead of oneself. The average man would earn £166.63 more per week if his unpaid work was remunerated, whereas the average woman would earn £259.63.

And what happened when I used the calculator? Well, let’s just say that – at £20 a week – the new cleaner is a bargain, as I shall be reminding my husband.


One thought on “Britain’s home-makers are owed billions

  1. moiraeastman3

    Thank you Joanna. Thank you for reminding all those home-makers of the financial value of their work. And even more importantly, reminding the consumers of the home-maker’s work of the value of the work of home-makers. Two Australian scholars, Dr Duncan Ironmonger and Professor Graeme Snooks are world leaders and pioneers in the study of the domestic economy.
    The Australian economist Duncan Ironmonger is one of the pioneers of measuring the time and value of unpaid work. His work confirms what you say. Except he values unpaid work more highly than does the ONS.
    Dr Ironmonger pioneered the use of time-use surveys to show that the previously invisible unpaid work of households comprises more than half of all valuable economic activity (Ironmonger 1994). Professor Graeme Snooks agrees with Ironmonger on the size of the household economy and on its overlooking by economists. He comments, ‘The household economy is forgotten in all senses of the word. Despite being the core of all economic systems . . . the household economy has been neglected, disregarded, slighted, and put out of the collective mind’. It may have been acceptable (and politic) in 1994 to say that the household economy was the forgotten economy. But after twenty years of published research on this area, it is more accurate to say that the household economy is being denied, relentlessly denied, outrageously denied . Despite this denial, research clearly shows that the household economy is over one-third larger than what is now considered to be the ‘total economy’

    National surveys of how Australians use their time found that in all three of the first survey years (1974, 1987, 1992) ‘the hours of unpaid work exceed the hours of paid work’ (Ironmonger 1994 p. 2). In Australia and most OECD countries for which reliable data exist, ‘the total volume of work each week is at least twice the work covered by the official employment statistics’ (Ironmonger 1994 p. 8). Using the 1992 household survey of time-use in Australia, Ironmonger estimates the value of unpaid household work at $283 billion a year, 40 per cent more than the $201 billion value of paid work for that year. The 2006 ABS report ‘How Australians Use Their Time’ uses different statistical methods to those Ironmonger uses, but confirms the large amount of production that takes place in the unpaid economy of the household.

    I like your headline, ‘Britain’s home-makers are owed billions’. That really brings home the reality of the situation.

    Incidentally, I personally am not agitating that that work be paid for out of some magic pudding. I think the first step is to value the work in the system of national accounts. this is step number 1 in thinking about this situation and working our how it may be made more fair.

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