Urban Journalism Institute
Municipal Times Journal

A proposal for a participatory approach to caring systems: Accessible and inclusive social care

“Caring systems” are the core of the Pact for the Future of Humanity. On 12 October 2022, a Town Hall was held bringing together representatives of civil society and local and regional elected officials to discuss and reflect on policy recommendations to advance the implementation of caring systems. 

The basis for the discussion was a policy paper on caring systems, prepared by several civil society organizations. Caring systems are defined as systems that support individuals through social and physical infrastructures, which are underpinned by public funding, regulation, and policies aimed at delivering equitable, quality care services for everyone everywhere. This is done regardless of the social and financial status of individuals, is done throughout their lives, and is done in the common interest (i.e. without extracting profit from such services) so that all can live a meaningful and dignified life. The presenters proposed adopting a holistic approach to caring that focuses on granting general access to social care services for all

The session highlighted three key elements identified by this more comprehensive approach. First, caring systems need to be rights-based in the sense that they should be understood from a human-rights based model, which empowers everyone as care rights-holders. Second, caring systems need to be gender transformative and equitable. While most of the care work – both paid and unpaid – is disproportionally carried out by women, caring systems must transform this paradigm and shape a new social organization around equitable sharing of care responsibilities between genders, between households and the state, and between local and central governments. Last, care is more than the provision of health, social and welfare services; it ties together the social fabric of our communities around the world, from the family level to the national and international levels. 

This topic is much wider than commonly understood, as it also includes working on a new, more effective social contract, which would see cities and local communities as ecosystems for care and inclusion. Local governments play the key role in this system, as they are the closest to the residents and they will directly implement and design the services and the infrastructure required. This integrated perspective on caring is already being carried out by some municipalities, for example in Iztapalapa borough in Mexico City. However, it is important to involve all levels of government to ensure comprehensive policy frameworks are in place across scales. For this reason, the policy paper covers a wider understanding of caring systems and integrates questions related to the environment, sustainable development, gender, poverty, well-being, security, informality, participation, and equitable access to housing and basic services.

To ensure the implementation of a holistic approach to caring systems, the concept needs to be supported and protected by public institutions, receive adequate funding, and be duly regulated to ensure equitable access. The session therefore explored a number of recommendations, or focus areas, to be implemented for caring systems to function effectively. These include: providing universal access to essential services and infrastructure for all; ensuring that basic services are publicly funded, delivered, and regulated by public institutions with a “public good” approach; fostering development from the bottom-up; and promoting residents’ access to affordable and accessible technology and reliable information.