Mothers at Home Matter "Who Cares for the Family"

 

Too Costly not to Care?

 

 

This talk was given as a keynote address to the Mothers At Home Matter annual conference, London, 11 November 2014 (http://www.mothersathomematter.co.uk/

 

“When mothers speak out, the voices of children are heard”.

 

Introduction

 

Thank you very much for inviting me this morning.  It is a huge honour to be here.   MAHM is a group that I and many other mothers follow with great admiration and the fact that year after year you attract such high level celebrated national and international speakers to your meetings speaks volumes as to much MAHM is shaping the national debate, and the high regard that MAHM is held in international academic circles.

 

I am not an academic, nor do I have any formal child care qualifications or expertise.  “BC” I was a Barrister but for the last 12 years my main role has been as a mother to my 3 children although now that my children are 14,13 and 11 I count myself lucky to be able to give back to my local community as a  Councillor and school Governor, experience which will stand me in good stead to stand for Parliament".

 

We need more mothers in Government at all levels

 

However, I feel passionately that the things I started campaigning about 7 years ago when I helped found the Open Eye campaign (now “Too much, too soon campaign”) are just as important today as they were then, and even though life has taken me in a different direction, it is just as vital now as it was then that mothers speak out and are heard and represented at all tiers of Government.  For when mothers speak out, the voices of children are heard.

 

As a local Councillor it is still a fight to get the basic needs of children heard and acknowledged, whether that is fighting for better outside space and equipment in the planning system, fighting for grant funding for local nurseries and youth groups or making sure that when leisure centres are upgraded and replaced that facilities for children like training pools are not sacrificed in favour of more profitable facilities like rows and rows of exercise bikes for adults.  So whilst it may not sound exciting, and often it isn’t, it is vitally important that when they can, mothers stand for public office at any levels.

 

French experience & Promotingt Parenting

 

One of the most powerful parenting experiences of my life was moving from nappy valley in Clapham, South London to France with two very young toddlers.  The reason it was so powerful was because it was immediate apparent that we had arrived in a place where motherhood and parenting were still valued.

 

Only a few weeks after we had arrived a small pamphlet dropped thought he letter box “Le Journal – Association des Families du 7eme”.   It was an invitation to attend a parenting café and to listen to a family or childcare expert talk about some aspect of childcare or parenting e.g how best to encourage your child to do well at School, how to recognise dyslexia, how to deal with bullying etc, etc.

 

The experience was so inspiring that on my return to Kent I and a few other like-minded mothers started our own parenting café in Sevenoaks called “Promoting Parenting”.

 

We attracted lots of high level speakers but also campaigned locally getting rid of inappropriate merchandise such as playboy pencil cases in WH Smith, a junior fashion show for children as young as 7/8 in a local primary school and inappropriate primary school bands such as “The Funky Chicks”  to name but a few.  

 

Mr Farage may say he is leading the people’s army but the mother’s army is far more powerful!

 

Early Years Foundation Stage Framework

 

At the same time I came face to face with the EYFS which as many of you know is not a pretty sight!

Suddenly endless photographs, files, yellow stickers and clip-boards appeared in my son’s nursery school together with check lists, targets and long written reports.  In addition, we were told that our children – all aged 3/4 - would be assessed against 69 educational learning goals!  This was for children who were still learning to put on their shoes, to share toys, and even to blow their nose!

 

Care had been replaced with process.  Instead of nurturing our children it seemed as if the focus was on measuring them.  Not only once but over and over again throughout the year.  It was heart-breaking and, of course, completely meaningless.  You can weigh a pig as many times as you like but unless you change its diet it won’t put on any weight!

 

In contrast with the French model it was stark and shocking.  Whilst somewhat historic now, at that time, creches and nursery schools in France were still clearly based on the developmental needs of the child.  In the UK they are based on the choice needs of the mother/parents.  For example, before you were allowed to place your child in a crèche you had to attend a mini-training session and you were only allowed to drop your child in the morning or the afternoon 3 times a week.  You had to agree to go and help at least once a month and there was no question of either dropping your child at say 8 am and returning at 6 pm.  Indeed I was once fined for being 20 minutes late to pick up my son at the end of the morning session!  Nor was there any overt testing or assessing the children.

 

The EYFS was and is a complete affront not only to motherhood but to common sense which is why I and others campaigned so hard against it.  That is why we attracted so much support, especially from the Liberal Democrats, and that is why the Education select committee eventually ordered a review of the most damaging aspects of the curriculum.

 

“La famille est la cellule de base de la societe”

 

The founding principle of the French Family Association was that “the family is the cell at the base of society”.  So if we want Society to succeed, the family must first succeed, and right now, I think we can safely say that it is not.

 

Fewer and fewer parents, in particular, mothers are able to choose to stay at home to raise their own children. 

 

  • Shocking that when I came back to the UK 9 years ago, about 55% of women were working outside the home and 45% were working inside the home.  Now it is close to 70% of women working outside the home and only 30%working inside the home.  I suspect the figures are even worse if you include part-time work.  In other words, more women then ever before either do not wish to look after their children at home or are unable to choose to do so.  

  • The targets driven approach to early years education has continued apace, and

  • The inexorable commercialisation and I think we should add digitalisation of almost every aspect of childhood and education is rampant – screens abound & it is impossible now to be a child at school and not do your homework using a screen – consequently children from 12 to 18 now spending an average of 6.5 hours a day on screens.

 

But far worse I think we are beginning to see the cost of this damaging approach to childhood and education.  We have increasing numbers of seriously troubled families in the UK which cost the tax-payer billions and billions of pounds, increasing numbers of children with learning difficulties, and most troubling of all, increasing numbers of our oldest and youngest citizens in Society being neglected and in the worst cases physically abused.

 

The moral case for reversing this trend is irrefutable.  However, I believe we are not far away now from having a clear financial case.  I suggest it is now too costly for us not to care.

 

How did we get here? 

Successive Governments as we know have been wedded to an agenda of encouraging women with children back into the workplace. Indeed, the UK tax and benefit system now actively discriminates against families who choose to have one parent at home to bring up their family.

 

The problem with this social engineering is that it ignores completely the caring cycle of life and the care which one generation has in the past normally provided freely for another.  It decimates and undermines the whole concept of “care” and discriminates unfairly against (mostly) women who continue to be the biggest care providers.

 

Paul Kirby, (a man) and a partner at accounting firm KPMG, would like to see school days extended to run from about 9am until 6pm, from the current hours of around 8.30am to 3.10pm.  Holidays would also be reduced from 13 weeks to seven.

He told The Sun newspaper that it would solve a wide range of issues, "transforming the lives of most households in the UK within two years" as it would solve the crisis around childcare affordability and also would also allow parents to return to full-time work’’ 

Mr Kirby also believes that it is good news for teachers as it will enable them to take on a far broader role in relation to the children in their care!  It seems to have completely escaped his notice that many women become teachers because they perceive it to be a career they can pursue at the same time as bringing up their children, not in order to out-source care of their own children to other teachers, while they look after someone elses. 

Do we really want a society where young children spend almost every waking hour with their teacher not with their Mum, Dad or Grandma or Grandpa?

Is the future of our children and our society safe when we replace intergenerational wisdom and family values with institutional thinking and ‘’caring strategies’’ delivered by teachers or healthcare professionals?

I don’t think so and interestingly 81% of mothers questioned by “Britain Thinks” thought not too. 

Of course that is not to say we haven’t made progress – we have

 

From the ‘Made in Dagenham’ Ford factory girls landmark victory for equal pay in 1972 we have made great steps forward. Some say that there is still a glass ceiling but women who choose to fly high have the same opportunity as men e.g Karen Brady has just made it to become a Peer.  And that is great.

 

But what about those women who prefer to fly in the home sphere or who don’t aspire to six figure salaries? And what of those who having had a high flying career want to invest the same level of time and energy into raising the next generation? 

 

Not all women are Mothers but virtually all women are carers – whether that is a partner, parent, extended family, and friend, pet or good cause. Nurturing, the ability to be selfless, valuing relationships and kindness over material gain and competitiveness are necessary and vital in an increasingly technology dominated world where Individual choice takes precedence over the wider well- being of society.

 

Yes the problem is that the principles and values of the corporate workplace competitiveness, survival of the fittest, cost and, in particular, time efficiency have been rigorously applied to both paid and voluntary and vocational caring professions.  Care which is better spelt “TIME” has no place in this industrial model so has disappeared.

But do we like the consequences?  Do we feel they are attractive and/or desirable for a first world civilised society?

  • Old people subsisting in loneliness and isolation, with the most vulnerable receiving only perfunctory and basic support from a low paid, undervalued and mostly female workforce

  • Neglect and abuse in Care Homes and Hospitals – compassion sacrificed on the altar of efficiency

  

    • Nursing turned into a Degree course and the former State Enrolled Nurse pastoral rather than clinical  qualification disbanded replaced by Health Care Assistants on a third of the wage and with box ticking and legislative driven NVQ certification

 

    • Depression, Self- Harm and Eating Disorders almost a rite of passage according to the Charity,  Action on Anorexia and Bulimia  1/3 of girls and 1/5 of boys in the UK aged 11-19 have tried to harm themselves and the number of children admitted into hospital because of self-harm has risen by 1/3 in the last 5 years

 

    • Childhood obesity rates in 2011 were 17% for girls and 16% for boys. Increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy food choices partly driven by stressed and tired time poor working parents can only make this trend worse.

 

    • There are currently 92,000 children in Care (NSPCC) and sadly this figure is increasing. We know that children in Care have lower levels of achievement and worse outcomes than children in secure family environments, despite the huge cost of the resources invested in professional Carers and Institutions, and adjacent professionals of repair (child psychologists, counsellors, outreach etc)

 

In other words, having reduced care of the elderly to a series of impersonal market driven transactions, badged as ‘care packages’, it would appear that policy makers from all parties have the same aspiration for looking after the next generation. 

Ironically the system also has an inbuilt unfairness that rewards high income families disproportionately, and lays the burden of the low wage top ups that need to be paid to the (mostly female) childcare workforce through the tax credit system, onto the tax payer rather than the employers who are failing to provide a living wage.

 

The bulk of funding for the childcare tax breaks will go to families with higher incomes, who can afford to spend at least £6,000 a year on childcare for each of their children.

 

Similarly two parents earning a combined salary of £99,500 will still be entitled to child benefit as well as paying considerably less tax due to the fact that their income is split between two people.   Again penalising one income families where one party takes on the unpaid caring role.  

 

I believe that it is crucial not just to the well-being of mothers but also to the economic well-being of the entire Country that we challenge this model.

 

The current inability of politicians of all colours to recognise the cost to the exchequer of not allowing families “space” to care for one another is unfair, unjust and ultimately unsustainable.

 

  • £7 billion has been quoted as the cost of supporting working mothers through free childcare, the subsidising of nursery places and tax credits yet it would cost less then half of this to support mothers working at home through the tax system.

  • There is now clear evidence that spending hours and hours in institutionalised care is not good for very young children and can be linked to poor educational outcomes which ultimately costs the country dearly in terms of reduced GDP

  • Care of the elderly in Hospital due to lack of anybody to care at home is costing the country billions and billions of pounds

  • Care of the elderly in the community due to nobody at home to care is again crippling the exchequer and is set to rise with advances in medicine and superior nutrition and preventative care will continue to prolong life and increase life expectancy putting additional burdens on creaking public services.

  • Cost of the educational “repair industry”.  Extra support for children who arrive at school without the necessary literacy skills due to lack of conversation/care again costs the country millions

 

Ultimately you can’t commodify care, you can’t commodify love, and although you can outsource printing and bins and catering, you can’t outsource people and expect the family and Society to stay the same.

 

So how can we rebalance the economic needs of the Country and emotional needs of children and the elderly when the country is still spending way beyond its means?

 

Clearly a huge issue but what I believe we could:

 

  • The first step is a review of the tax and benefit system to give equality to all mothers through allowing all household income to be split equally between both adult members of the household.

  • Redistribute child benefit to all families earning a net combined income of less than £50K and stop it completely for households that earn in excess of this figure

  • Limit child benefit to two children

  • Combine child benefit and child care allowances into one benefit for households with household income below £50K net

  • Scrap child tax credits and enforce a living wage with local weighting 

     

 

Other ideas

 

  • The second step is to look at social and community enterprise not for profit models that are local, small scale, flexible and intergenerational  reduce the need for large scale bureaucracy and economies of scale race to the bottom models

  • Ring fence employees national insurance into a social care fund that directly funds tax breaks for families (unpopular with singletons but necessary for future generation)

  • Put 20% social fund tax/levy on all Companies that trade but are not registered for tax purposes in the UK – no paid means no trade.

  • Phase in compulsory care fund element similar compulsory to pension provision – a life stage product that can provide care throughout life or top up part time earnings  

 

In conclusion

 

I believe that Society needs to recognise that time spent caring in whatever form is a hugely important and productive use of time.

 

There is a lot of work to be done.  However, as they say, miracles we do at once, the impossible takes a little longer.  I believe if we band together we can do this because after all:

 

A mother’s love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.
Marion C. Garretty