Capacity for housework: a hitherto unknown (to me) benefit of breast screening

Benefit? Sounds more like a risk…..

In July 1985 a working group under Sir Patrick Forrest was invited by Ken Clarke (yes him, the same Ken Clarke as our current Ken Clarke) to look at the evidence on breast screening and decide what to do about it. It made its report - Breast Cancer Screening - in November 1986. The Government accepted it in full for implementation in early 1987.

Hence our current breast screening programme.

It’s a technical document that lays out what is needed to create a national breast screening service. It is rightly quantitative in its approach. I wouldn’t expect to hear women’s voices, expressing a view on screening. These would not assist workforce planning or discussions on infrastructure. I’ve been reading the Forrest Report to see how it addressed the risks of breast screening. ‘Hardly at all’ is the short answer but I noticed this other thing which made me laugh out loud, then stop, just as suddenly.

Look at Page 56 of Chapter 9, on economic appraisal. There are two benefits of breast cancer screening offered. One is reduced mortality. This is the other.

 “9.23 Production gains Apart from the intrinsic value of extending life, the gain in healthy years of life also benefits society through the contribution made to productive output during the years gained. It should be stressed that there may be a gain regardless of whether nor not the person whose life is extended is in paid employment. Housework, for example, has a value even though it is not paid for.”

I’d not conceived of housework as a benefit to society, to illustrate and promote the benefit of breast screening. Wafting clouds of sexism swirl. Then there's the ageism. A women’s life, extended by breast screening will be on the cusp of retirement or spent mostly in retirement.

Older woman, are you? Well, if you aren’t in paid employment, you’ll be dusting. Well done, dear.

Let me think. I’ll try the idea out on me.

“I will go for screening, now I realise that, should I turn out to have breast cancer, the production benefit from my housework will ease the situation for society”.

Nope, sorry, still not feelin’ it.  

It wasn’t a message for me or ‘women’ though, so I’m being disingenuous in ‘replying’.  However, it was a message for policymakers. I don’t doubt the truth of the statement but why make that one? Was it really so hard to find something positive that older women brought, bring, to society? This paragraph was written in the context an economic argument, to a Tory government, about women and women’s health. If it had been by women or from women, ‘women’ would, surely, have offered some other, better examples of production benefit?

Productive output of older women reduced to either paid employment or housework.

Flamin’ Nora? She's incandescent.