A thousand billion quid – the value of unpaid household work in Britain

  • Figures show the huge cost of replacing the unpaid work of families and carers
  • Value of unpaid childcare by parents and carers rose 75 percent in a decade
  • But the value of nutrition provided by families fell, with fewer calories being consumed

By Chaminda Jayanetti

One thousand billion pounds – that is the value of unpaid work carried out by households in the United Kingdom every year.

Figures published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the “Gross Value Added” of unpaid labour by households reached £1,019bn in 2014.

That’s £1,018,948,000,000 of working for free to keep households functioning and people looked after, after deducting the cost of “inputs” that have to be paid for.

The figures show the huge value of unpaid work in Britain – if families and informal carers stopped working, they (or we) would all have to pay a thousand billion pounds more to replace what they (or we) do for free.

The ONS data doesn’t include unpaid work such as workfare by Jobseekers Allowance claimants – this is primarily about the unpaid work of parents and family carers.

Childcare costs on top

So what does this unpaid work include? Childcare is the biggest single element – the economic value of unpaid childcare, mostly (but not only) by parents, stood at £321bn in 2014.

That’s a 5.5 percent increase on 2013, and a huge 75 percent rise since 2005 – far bigger than the increase in value of any other sector of unpaid household work.

Partly that’s down to a rise in the number of children, partly to a rise in the cost of paid-for childcare – paid-for care by nannies, nurseries etc is what would have to happen if parents went on strike.

It does, however, show the huge economic contribution made by people who raise children unpaid. Most of whom – not all, but most – are women.

If anything, the figure understates the full economic value of childcare, given the role it plays in the future economic productivity of children as adults.

Another big factor is transport – the value of “Dad’s taxi service”, to put it in stereotypical terms. That was worth £158bn in 2014.

Other unpaid contributions are housework and household maintenance, nutrition and feeding, laundry, adult care, volunteering, and clothing – all these are given monetary values by the ONS.

Overall GVA 2014

Squeezed budgets, smaller stomachs?

The value of nutrition fell by seven percent between 2013 and 2014, partly due to fewer calories being consumed. Volunteering fell and has remained generally flat since 2005. Both figures arguably reveal – respectively – the impact, and lack of impact, of government policy.

The fall in calories consumed is particularly noteworthy, given its potential relationship to squeezed household budgets and growing malnutrition.

The total overall figure of £1,019bn of unpaid household work in 2014 is a rise of just under two percent from 2013, but is fully 47 percent higher than it was in 2005, when the ONS started collecting this data.

Part of the reason is the growing population – particularly among elderly people and children, who are often cared for by family members on a voluntary basis (such as parents, for instance).

Another factor is the increasing cost of buying these services instead of providing them for free – professional childcare and public transport have all got more expensive down the years. The number of people receiving informal adult care has remained static, according to ONS, but the value has grown as paid-for adult care costs have risen.

But the value of unpaid work by households – “home production” – has also grown relative to the UK economy as a whole.

The proportion of total home production to total national GDP rose almost four percent from 2005 to 2014. The value of unpaid work by households is now equivalent to 56.1 percent of GDP, which represents the “paid-for”  economic activity of the country.

More information on the definitions and methodology used by the ONS can be found by clicking this link.

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