This is a possibly unkind reading of this complaint but it’s also a true one. That Brexit, and any subsequent limitations upon labour mobility, will mean that British women won’t be able to have servants. It’s not entirely obvious that this is a matter of sufficient importance to call the whole thing off really. Just as the effects of those cotton mills were indeed to make female labour more valuable and so less likely to be employed blacking stoves. As well as, you know, enabling the entire world to have a change of underwear.
But this is roughly the argument being made:
Women will have to give up work to look after their ageing parents and grandparents unless EU care workers are given priority after Brexit, ministers have warned.
The Department of Health said that in a “worst case scenario” if EU migrants are barred from coming to the UK there will be a shortfall of 6,000 doctors, 12,000 nurses and 28,000 care staff within five years.
In a 37-page dossier it said that there will be a “wider risk to labour market participation” because growing numbers of people, “especially women”, will have to give up their jobs to provide “informal care” for loved ones.
It’s not entirely obvious that going out to work to pay for the labour to care for loved ones is any better than not going out to work and caring for loved ones. Clearly, who does which is a matter for the individuals concerned and no one else. And in economic terms if the two women working produces higher living standards then that’s the solution to be economically preferred. But if the one is working as a child minder so that the other can be paid to look after granny, well, we’ve not really got any further than the one looking after her own child, the other granny.
It depends rather upon that division and specialisation of labour, whether when we’ve done that we’re getting more care done out of the same amount of labour.
But leave all of that drear efficiency stuff aside. The complaint here really is about whether the right sort of women will still be able to afford servants. The type who will come and wash bedridden granny while the chatelaine does important things like organise the diversity of sex education at the local primary. For look again at what the report itself is insisting – if labour mobility halts after Brexit then women will have to look after their own loved ones rather than farm it out to some Romanian girl.
But then the Telegraph has spent the last century and a half worrying about the servant problem, hasn’t it?