by Claire Paye
22nd January 2016
What is so terrible about mothers looking after their own children? Why is it so very important that mothers do paid work so they can pay someone else to look after their children? Why the Government obsession with using taxpayers’ money to pay for childcare when mothers can, and often want to, provide a higher level of care for free? Has anyone asked the children what they would prefer? It drives me absolutely mad and I’m fed up with the whole rhetoric around this.
What about this piffle from James Kirkup in the Telegraph 19thJan about Muslim ladies learning English:‘Eighteen per cent of Muslim women are “looking after family” to the exclusion of paid work. It’s six per cent overall. Not least because of what we know about the advantages of work, should we accept that state of affairs without challenge?’ Well, actually, the opposite is true. Should we accept the received wisdom that all mothers not only should, but really want to, work without challenge? Should we accept the state of affairs where children spending time with their parents is considered a ‘luxury’. I am a media contact for the group Mothers at Home Matter and I can’t count the number of times journalists have said to me, ‘well, we can’t all afford the luxury of looking after our children full time.’ Since when did a child being raised by his mother or father become a luxury? What sort of world do we live in where babies and toddlers no longer have the right to be cared for consistently by someone who loves them viscerally, self-sacrificially and unconditionally?
Many mothers, clearly surprisingly to some decision-makers, value their children above all else and, given a choice, would rather spend fewer hours working and more time caring for them. They don’t really want 30 hours’ taxpayer-subsidised, sorry, ‘free’, childcare. Mothers and, increasingly, fathers want to be able to care for their children themselves without having to pay additional tax for the ‘luxury’. But if one parent dares to stay at home full time that family is no longer considered to be a ‘working’ family. They will therefore pay at least £2800 more in tax per year (£233 per month) than a family where both parents work [dual income] and where the Government pays for their children to be looked after by someone else. Why? The Government sets aside £7.5bn for childcare and early years education yet will do nothing to make it possible for families to look after their children themselves. The dual income family may well cost the Government more to sustain than the single income family where one parent cares for the children and supports the working partner so why tax single income families to extinction?
Why not just establish a level playing field in the tax system or even, God forbid, offer equal allowances to offset the cost of caring for children both for those parents who do paid work and for those parents who have sacrificed a salary to care for their children themselves?
Just as I wouldn’t say that all mothers should stay at home, why is the Government saying that all mothers should work? Of course there are some mothers at home who would love to find flexible work around their children’s school hours, or who have built up a career which they want to sustain, or who are finding the demands of looking after a baby or toddler on their own too hard and would love to be out of the house for a few hours in the week. Mothers have never had to raise children on their own. They have always, until now, been part of a society of mothers and children. Raising children well is not easy. There are mothers who want to work. Fine.
Equally, there are many mothers who would rather have more time at home to be able to breastfeed their babies, play with their toddlers, take their children to school every day, accompany them to after school clubs, cook healthy(ish) meals for them, spend time reading with them, ‘facilitate’ homework, have the option to drop everything to care for a depressed teenager (children’s mental health is becoming a serious concern), and just basically organise life so that both children and parents can get enough sleep. Why are the mothers who want to do paid work of so much more value to society than the mothers who want to care for their children themselves?
Stay at home mothers finally have a champion in Nadiya Hussain, the winner of the Great British Bake Off. I nearly cried when she said that the group she was most proud to represent wasn’t Muslims, but stay at home mothers. We are a dying breed, nearly extinct. We are considered superfluous to society because ‘everyone’ works now. The Government, in policy making, has two apparent aims. The first one is to increase tax receipts. The second is to further ‘equality’ for women. Women have the right to do paid work because caring for your own children at home is clearly without any value and you could be replaced in the blink of an eye by a paid nursery worker.
It is a good thing when children can be cared for by their mother or father. The Government does not need to orchestrate the mass exodus of parents from the home. Two and three year olds, on the whole, will not benefit more from being in childcare for 30 hours a week (the school week is around 32 hours) than they would from being cared for by one of their parents. Families can be trusted to work out what is the best combination of working hours and caring hours. The Government’s role is surely to facilitate choice, not to engineer social change. Subsidising childcare for mothers who are paid to work whilst penalising mothers who have given up a salary to care for their own children is not the most enlightened of policies.
This article first appeared on amateurmother blog