When it comes to meeting family responsibilities a ‘ family life cycle approach’ is essential and a sequential pattern of care and work is as acceptable as any other choice in 2015. Mothers and fathers need time to care and time to work – motherhood and a career – but not necessarily all at the same time. It’s worth considering that there are 50 years between 20 and retirement. The same applies to fatherhood, but fathers do not become pregnant and bear children, and neither do they experience the same degree of physical change or the time and space required, especially if breastfeeding, to nurture body and mind for this important task.
The roles involved in parenting, throughout the life course from infancy to independence, are countless and varied and if we truly believe that parenting is a shared project, then parents need to be assessed jointly and have the option to be treated as a household when they have care responsibilities for children – and also for other family members. It makes little sense to treat people as separate individuals when they’ve embarked on the long journey of raising children through all the ups and downs, unexpected twists and turns. At the moment parents are caught between two contradictory systems – they are assessed jointly for entitlement (and loss of entitlement) to income support or access to things like free prescriptions, but individually for income tax purposes. The individual tax system means that a father or mother who brings in most of the money will find they are taxed heavily (compared to other countries and compared to other family models) with no mechanism for factoring in number of dependents they provide for in the family. But at the same time the primary caregiver in a couple household loses out as their loss of income isn’t recognised (you are told ”it’s your choice and your private family affair”), so as a caregiver you will need to depend on your partner for assistance with things like further training or study to keep your skills up to date. But the catch is that your partner has already lost out in the income tax stakes compared with a single colleague who has no responsibilities.
Although our systems purport to reject the term ‘breadwinner and dependent’ as if it’s outdated (when it’s as valid a model as any other in a free society), it’s interesting that it perpetuates this system by refusing to treat the family as a household where both parents play equal (albeit different) roles.
MAHM believes that mothers and fathers are equal in all respects, whether in paid work or at home and equality does not hinge on participation in employment alone. The latter would entail assessing your ‘equality’ rating at regular intervals or on a single snapshot in time, rather than taking a family live cycle longer-term perspective. In a modern society it’s surely time to end the discrimination against the ‘workless’ parent (often the mother, but with growing numbers of fathers taking on different roles) when he or she is in periods of caring and unpaid work. We need a cultural shift to embrace the importance and value of care for the sake of caregivers as well as the dependants they support, not to mention communities, wider society and also for the sake of the economy and the health and wellbeing of all citizens. The family is the best welfare state there is – and to replace the care provided by ‘the family’ would be nigh on impossible. For the taxpayer it is ultimately more costly NOT to support the family, than to offer famlies fair and reasonable support iin taxation and social security.
The role of care needs to be urgently re-assessed and elevated to the status it deserves, acknowledging that caring is also ‘contributing’ and that it’s a productive, vital use of time and life skills, nurturing the next generation. #valuecare
This article was edited in June 2015