Childcare costs hold us all back

// 7 September 2011

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colourful box of toys

The results of Save the Children’s survey into childcare costs have been making headlines today. They reveal that middle and lower income parents are being forced into debt by childcare costs and the majority of those in severe poverty are no better off working and paying for childcare than staying at home and relying on benefits.

Clearly this is a terrible situation in terms of child poverty, as Save the Children explain, but it is also a gendered issue. The vast majority of single parents – the biggest losers here – are women. What’s more, women in heterosexual couples are more likely than men to be forced to stop working due to problems accessing childcare, thanks to the gender pay gap (it is more likely to make sense for the father to keep working), unequal parental leave (as men can only have two weeks’ off work, women are pushed into being the primary caregiver and are likely to remain so) and social norms regarding parenting roles. Without access to childcare, women get stuck in the home. And while some women are very happy taking on the role of primary caregiver – a damn important and woefully undervalued role, I might add – no woman should be forced into it through the failure of repeated governments to recognise childcare as a social issue, not just a personal one.

As a society, we need people to have children if we are to remain sustainable. We need future workers, tax payers, carers and leaders. And yet we (or rather, the dudes in power) have done very little to incorporate childcare into our social structures, assuming that mothers will continue to sort it out themselves, then berating them when they can’t get their work/life balance in order. Employers view children as a barrier to productivity, and instead of offering their employees childcare, flexible working hours and decent parental leave, discriminate against mothers and women of childbearing age. The government does bugger all to help employers make this happen (and what the hell were you doing for 12 years, New Labour?), piping up only to blame working class parents for the moral delinquency of their “feral” children, threatening to make them homeless for failing to show them the good ol’ rod and stick.

It’s an absolute bloody disgrace, and every feminist should be up in arms about it. I’m getting to the stage where I’m considering having children, and I’m at a complete loss trying to figure out how the hell my partner and I are going to make it work the way we would like, where he doesn’t have to be the primary wage earner and I don’t have to put everything on hold and devote myself solely to being Mum (which may well be lovely, but I’d like the choice, you know?). But with the problems detailed above, the odds are massively stacked against us – and we’re fortunate enough not to be in the lower income spectrum.

This simply isn’t where any of us should be in 2011, forty-one years on from the National Women’s Liberation Conference, where feminists listed free 24-hour nurseries as one of their four key demands. We need to finish what they started. Now.*

*And if we can do it in time for my Grandma to become Great, then so much the better.

Photo by markb, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 7 September 2011 at 11:04 pm

Save The Children’s report on Childcare costs consistently referred to parents having to give up work and/or not accept paid work but remain on benefits and the word ‘parents’ implied that both both mothers and fathers are supposedly giving up work/remaining on benefits because childcare costs are so expensive. In reality it is mothers not fathers who are the ones having to give up paid work in order to take care of their children and it is mothers who are having to remain on benefits because they cannot afford to take paid work and pay for childcare.

Save The Children’s report is deliberately misleading and it begs the questions why and who benefits? The answer is it deliberately hides the fact men are the not ones having to give up work in order to take care of their children but women and hiding this fact ensures that continued discrimination against women and fact they are the ones being denied opportunities of entering paid work because the state believes women alone are responsible for childcare whereas men are supposedly the ‘breadwinners’ ensures that sex discrimination against women continues to operate.

But new regulations mean women who are also mothers and happen not to have the supposedly mandatory (sic) male breadwinner in their household are being forced once the child or elder/eldest child if the woman has more than one child, reaches a certain age, to claim Jobseekers Allowance rather than claim Income Support. This means the women are then subjected to punitive financial suspensions if the Dept. of Works believes they are not seeking paid employment and/or are refusing to accept any paid employment regardless of whether or not the salary is sufficient to cover their living and childcare costs. She is then labelled ‘a scrounger.’ It is a win win for male supremacy and a lose lose for women who are mothers but also want to work. The aim of course is to reduce the numbers of women who do not have the mandatory ‘male breadwinner’ in their household and also to force women who do have male partners, back in to the home and looking after the man’s children (sic) whilst he is busily engaged in paid work. The woman of course is not ‘working’ or contributing to society because she is simply enacting childcare responsibility and we all know childcare is not ‘work’ and not highly valued. Irrespective of these claims, one income for most mothers who happen to have male partners is not sufficient to keep them and their children out of poverty, unless of course the father happens to be a banker or has a highly lucrative job.

It is men who are the ones continuing to ‘have it all’ and women are the ones being punished and discriminated against because they have children or rather according to male supremacist dogma (lies) ‘have men’s children’ but are expected to take care of ‘men’s children’ 24/7 whilst the men retain their rights of being in paid employment.

The Tory/Lib Dem government harks constantly on ‘the family’ and yet this government like previous ones considers the state must not provide adequate and affordable childcare facilities to enable women to enter/return to paid work. Instead women are as always, expected to be totally responsible for raising the next generation and as usual women are scapegoated whenever ‘men’s children’ (sic) commit crimes or deviate from so-called ‘family values.’

Every few years malestream media focuses on the issue of supposed decline in population due to smaller numbers of women fulfilling one of their two central roles, namely ‘having men’s children’ and ensuring the male supremacist system continues ad naseum. Those who initiate these pseudo panics in order to guilt-trip women for supposedly not reproducing sufficient children, never consider the fact raising a child is not just a woman’s responsibility – it is society’s responsibility or rather the state’s responsibility to ensure that childcare facilities are put in place and the cost of accessing these facilities are not limited to the tiny percentage of parents (sic) who are wealthy and have the means to pay.

tigerkitty // Posted 8 September 2011 at 10:08 am

Where is the campaign for shared parental leave? Can we start one? Today?

sian norris // Posted 8 September 2011 at 5:07 pm

well said!

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