Human Needs

The care sector is a key resource to meet human needs. It is usually the first, and often the most important way that many of these needs are met, though friends, business, career and government also play a part in meeting others.

International conventions often state that the family’is a basic unit of society.  Much discussion has resulted debating the definition of family, and the merits or not of single parenting, gay parents, adoptive and foster parents, divorced parents, unmarried parents.  It is possible however that the definition of family by marital or legal status is not  the important factor advocates are defending.

The key feature of those who are ‘family’ is that they care about each other, take care of each other, and love each other.  Advocates say the family, however constituted is the key resource to keep each other attached to life and enjoying life, feeling valued and useful.  The members of the family meet each other’s human needs and as such may be as vital to well-being as food.  However, like air, it goes unnoticed until there is a problem when it is devalued so much in an economy that it cannot do the care role that it wants so much to do.

One way to make the case for the value and equality rights of the traditional care sector is to itemize the needs it meets.

The basic needs of humans have been itemized by several academics.They can also be listed as what the person is allowed to do, or what they are free from, so are listed as freedoms.  The need for protection is somewhat equivalent to freedom  from being assaulted.

In addition, needs are often expressed as rights. What the child has the right to, such as protection under the law, can be deemed also a need for protection.  Special categories of rights of children have been identified internationally.

This page gives a timeline of the listing of basic needs and then looks at the specific applications to the care sector.

A. timeline

B. list of basic needs

C. caregiving implications


Here is a brief look at the history of what  needs have been identified.

1776 – the US Constitution outlines the basic freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and the freedom to petition. With its amendments it gives citizens the right to bear arms, the right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment., the right to protection from unreasonable search, the freedom of the press and other rights.  In this way human rights are intertwined with a perception of what people need.

1924 Eglantyne Jebb of Britain drafted a Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child These rights indicate recognition of the needs of the child to be protected, housed, fed, safe from exploitation, fed, the need for the sick child to be nursed, the delinquent to be reclaimed the orphan to be sheltered and succored. The rights in 1959 were further identifies.

1940s – Many psychologists of human behavior  focused  on what can go wrong. It was less common to examine what is needed for people to thrive.

1943- Psychologist Abraham Maslow established a list of five levels of needs, a hierarchy of what is needed for things to go right for human behavior.

1959 – The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child further identified the needs of a child to have a name, nationality and equal status regardless of race, color or religion. The needs of the child for nutrition, housing and medical services were outlined along with the need for free education, the need for recreation, to protection from all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. Also mentionned was the right and therefore an identified need for the child to be brought up in a spirit of tolerance towards others.

1962  Maslow said that throughout life people seek self-actualization and discovery and a person is always in the process ‘ of becoming’ . This principle suggests that needs are never  fully met and done with.

1970- Maslow amends his hierarchy of needs to include seven steps, then eight

1989 – The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clarified rights of the child and therefore what were perceived as needs  including  that the child  has the right to ‘know and be cared for by his or her own parents” and ‘shall not be separated from parents against their will. The child has the right and therefore needs to be granted the ability to express freely their views in matters affecting the child and to be protected from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence. It outlined the rights of the child and therefore the need for society to ensure the child can know the cultural identity, language and values of the parent.

2012 – France, Italy and Canada examine terms of the discussion. In Canada one Ontario  school board  seeks to ban the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’  from official forms. Some government policy in identifying needs of  child no longer mentions parent but speaks of government and state obligation – the state as parent – parens patriae.  Some observers express concern that parents may be treated as observers not worthy of having input and are concerned that parents’ expertise about knowing the needs of their children is less respected. The role of the state  to collect data about children, not always to inform parents of the data, and to observe parents and assess them and their parenting ability is seen as an unusual way to ensure the needs of the child are met.

            * Human rights legislation that defends the rights of the child also

            defends the rights of the parent to have information, to have input and yo have             decision making power in many child-rearing decisions.  When government

            policy, however well intended to ensure care of children in general, supercedes

            parents’ input and their own rights to raise the child in the way they deem best,

            there is a problem.

            *Tax penalty for some child rearing styles such as parental care, or government

            collection of data about the child without parental knowledge, could be

            seen as rights violations  Those practices could also be looked at in terms of             whether  they impair the ability of the parent to address the needs of the child as             they know them.

2016 Sosteric and Rakovic look at the human need for safe, calm, stable and nurturing environments.

2018- many researchers add to the Maslow list over time  such as need for novelty,

            need for human touch,


Basic needs have been identified from the various studies. They are generally listed in charts by priority, though experts ultimately do not fully agreed on the priorities. Most psychologists say the  basic needs of air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, must be met before others become important though usually agree that not all basic needs must be met before people also care about higher level needs.  A person may risk starvation for instance in order to save a life.    The hierarchy of needs therefore is not rigid but flexible depending on circumstance.

This list is provided alphabetically and many needs are about the same in meaning. . An asterisk is placed beside any need which is provided by ‘family’ and those who love the person, as the first ones to satisfy that need..

*need for a hug

need for a sense of power

*need for access to drinking water

need for access to voting

need for an identity and to be respected for race, gender, gender identification, language

*need for belonging

*need for clothing

*need for dignity

*need for drink

*need to be taught, to learn skills, need for an education

*need for emotional security

*need for stability and consistency of care environment

*need for financial security

*need for food

*need for freedom from fear

*need for freedom to explore

*need for freedom to speak

need for friendship and intimacy

*need for health care

*need for human touch

*need for independence

need for law and order

*need for love

*need for novelty

*need for opportunity to learn, to make mistakes and recover

*need for personal growth, becoming the most you can

*need for physical activity, exercise

*need for play and recreation

need for privacy

*need for protection and nurturing

*need for protection from assault, physical or emotional

*need for protection from the elements

need for public transportation

need for sanitation

*need for self-expression

need for self-fulfilment

need for sex

*need for shelter

*need for sleep

*need for social interaction and learning to share and take turns

need for special treatment as a minor in the justice system

*need for variety, spontaneity in some choice of activities

*need for warmth

*need to acquire a language

need to as a child be protected during war and armed conflict

*need to be able to set some personal goals and try to attain them

*need to be accepted

need to be affiliated with others

*need to be esteemed by someone else

need to be protected  from racism, exploitation, propaganda

*need to be protected from neglect

*need to be seen as both a receiver and a giver

*need to be seen both as a learner and a person with skills that can be taught

*need to be trusted

*need to develop self-reliance, autonomy

*need to give and receive affection

*need to have a chance to appreciate beauty

*need to have experiences that transcend the self such as spirituality, religion

*need to have uniqueness noticed and valued

need to not be engaged as a child soldier


The obligation of the state is not to satisfy all needs. Some are family obligations such as love and attention and the state’s role is just to ensure the well-being of the one who needs care and the availability of the one who can provide that love.

Some needs are personal freedoms such as to develop skills. pursue interests and to exercise. The role of the state is simply to ensure there are opportunities.

Some are however government obligations such as ensuring clean air, safe roads, food standards for safety, access to basic education, health care, police protection, national defense, public transit.. The state does not have the ability or the obligation to love its citizens.

The state does not have an obligation to make sure people are happy. In the US the basic principle is the state enables the ‘pursuit’ of happiness, sets the stage for opportunities but does require each citizen to on their own find the legal routes that would provide them with happiness.

What the ‘family’ does is bridge that gap. The family provides a support network to nurture the young and vulnerable, beyond what the state has time, money or ability to do well, and the family can do it precisely, one person at a time.  This role of the care sector is therefore vital to the well-being of citizens, beyond what formal economics counts which is their paid career and income earning potential. 

When the needs of children and adults are not met, the repercussions are often personally costly with health and safety problems, emotional upheaval and distress.  When the needs are not met adequately, not just personal life suffers however , but ultimately the economy that ignored care when it was done well. When needs are not met by the traditional care sector, the state starts to have to pay the bill and it is a new bill government had not budgeted for, and requires pay at professional rates for caregivers and pay for an entire new sector to address crisis.

So children who lack food become sickly and teens who feel neglected may drop out of school or join gangs.  People who feel unloved may resort to their own consolations of alcohol or drug abuse and may reduce their paid work productivity or lose their jobs. Their distress may end up being costly to the state as they become homeless, frequent users of the health care system,  callers to distress lines, mental health clients and may need counselling and emergency housing, food and shelter.

The care sector however is not costly.  Advocates argue that when it can operate, it saves the state these huge costs. The ‘family’ is on call 24-7 traditionally and is the one you can call in crisis if it you need an emergency babysitter or help digging your car out of a snowbank. They are the shoulder to cry on when your marriage ends, the person sitting beside you as you lay in a hospital bed, the person running your errands when you are elderly, and the one who arranges your funeral and administers your estate. Government not only depends on the care sector to do these roles, but could not function without them. They anchor the health care budget, they are the first  providers of early education, they are the psychologists who keep wayward teens on track, the consolers during injury  and the ones who keep the home functionning when paid workers have to work late or travel for work.

Advocates argue that the care sector is meeting these basic human needs, unthanked and ignored in official government policy but that if this ignoring reaches the point of penalizing it out of existence, there is a prolem.. Not only do families struggle when their anchor support is not available in crisis, but so does the state.

The care sector is traditionally on task, seeing needs and addressing them, as they come up, day or  night. No paid professional is as willing to serve so flexibly and selflessly. However if a tax system hobbles this sector, forces them out of their role to earn money even if they are needed at home and want to be home, this creates an economic dilemma for the state – to fund the care that is still needed.

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