The notion of ‘life chances’ is frequently invoked in political rhetoric and debate about social mobility and equality of opportunity. Typically, it is only loosely defined. This article considers the relationship between the ‘life chances’ agenda and persistent questions about the relationship between childcare and social justice. It unpacks the notion of ‘fair life chances’, considers problems associated with how life chances are measured, suggests that childcare will hold a pivotal place in any coherent ‘life chances’ agenda, and offers a defence of the crucial value of a child-focused analysis as part of the wider articulation of such an agenda. The chapter concludes with a proposal that we address childcare as a ‘relationship good’ – a uniquely valuable form of relationship, the distribution of which should be treated as a basic matter of social justice.
Age was central to how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, right from the start. In its initial responses in the early spring of 2020 – through the Coronavirus Act 2020 and surrounding measures – the UK government deployed chronological age as a marker, with the whole of the UK population over 70 identified as particularly vulnerable to the disease and subject to peremptory quarantine directives and restricted freedoms. These steps affected family members caring for people in this category – either indirectly, through their connection to the person they care for, or (also) directly, as many family carers are themselves over 70. The wellbeing of unpaid family carers has been very importantly at stake, in considering the implications of policy responses to the pandemic. Yet their position is largely hidden. So, while research evidence is beginning to gather on the impact of COVID-19 in relation to care, and particularly health care, little is known about the impact of the virus on people giving and receiving care in community settings (Woolham et al, 2020). While it has become something of a cliché to say that the experience of the pandemic has laid bare hitherto under-recognised patterns of disadvantage, the light still only rarely shines on the situations of family carers.
This absence of attention is critical, for two reasons. First, the role of family carers is growing and becoming more pivotal. Across Europe, there is an increasing reliance on family carers to provide essential care services to older and disabled people living in the community (Saraceno and Keck, 2010; Cooney and Dykstra, 2011; Kodate and Timonen, 2017).