Provocation Piece – Carers

Fiona Phillips

Journalist, broadcaster and TV presenter best known for her presenting role with the ITV Breakfast programme GMTV Today


As the ‘big’ sister to two younger brothers, I was often angry as a child. Growing up in the 1960s/70s it was customary for girls to ‘take a back seat’. When visitors popped around for tea, the boys were asked what their plans were. Which exciting careers they were aiming for? Mum tooted proudly on about her sons’ prospects, but no-one ever thought to ask what my ambitions were. So I’d sit and listen and angrily bristle, wondering why MY future wasn’t of interest. Ha! I’d show them! And I did, starting, aged 11, with two paper-rounds, earning my own money, buying my own clothes and absolutely relishing not having to beg my parents to buy me the latest fashions. It was SO empowering.


Fiona PhillipsI became addicted to my independence and the freedom that work gave me. I knew that working hard was the key to my career destiny. So I was always available. Bank Holidays were a frustration for me. And Christmas went on too long in my opinion! I couldn’t have even dared to dream back then as a pupil attending a school named one of the worst in the UK at the time, that the hard work would eventually pay-off, never mind that I’d end up presenting the UK’s most popular breakfast TV programme and interviewing the most important people in the land, a job I loved, but in the end had to leave when both my parents were diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.


By then I also had two sons, just toddlers at the time, and my life became about ‘just managing’. Just about managing the demands of 3.30am starts, while keeping across current affairs, making sure the fridge was stocked, the boys were fed and clothed as well as trying to manage my parents’ increasingly chaotic lives as dementia took a grip on them. Some days, if one of them went missing I’d be on the phone to police, or, if mum had forgotten she’d left a hot frying pan on the hob, fielding calls from the fire brigade, as well as chasing social services for not turning up at all.


And my brothers? I love them. But they were largely absentees. It was taken for granted that they’d carry on with their own lives, while I managed everyone else’s. I’d love to be able to say that I think the perception – the expectation – that women are mainly responsible for care, if needed, has changed over the years. But it hasn’t.


I have two brothers, one of whom is single, yet I ended up having to leave the job I loved, because, in the end, I simply couldn’t do it all. No one thanked me for it. Because care is not valued, largely because women give it for free and it is expected of them.


Care. Compassion. Two powerful attributes. Two of the most important human qualities. Yet, largely taken for granted, because they find their expression through women and our innate tendency to care.