I heard odd things yesterday. Talk of getting women back into the workplace by subsidising childcare for all parents – and this after means testing child benefit.
Then someone proposed that all child carers should have good GCSE Maths & English whilst increasing ratios! How did the human race survive before academic qualifications? Here we have another narrowing of work opportunities for people who are not so hot at academic stuff.
To add to my indignation, I heard someone say on the radio that only working parents provide a positive role model for children and that “non-working” parents don’t contribute to the economy.
I tried not to take this personally. Apparently, nothing I do counts towards the key indicator of national success until I go shopping or pay a bill, neither of which tally with my personal success indicators.
I’d love to read proposals on helping parents avoid being financially pressured into returning to work, together with an assessment of the key role unpaid parents (UPs) play in their families, their communities and society.
Here’s my take, based on 15 years’ experience, working full-time, part-time and at home, of the value UPs bring. I’m not saying that every family should have a UP. I do, however, want to see us put as much effort into making full-time parenting financially feasible and as socially acceptable as we put into back-to-work policies, so that parents can make a genuine choice. There’s more to national success than GDP and more to people’s quality of life than their finances.
Most of all, it’s not government’s place to rate one parenting model above another.
UPs, along with retired people and local trades people create the cohesive web of our communities. Has anyone worked out the reduced policing, health, social services and other costs associated with a strong community?
Our local pre-school facility was built and is run by volunteers. Immense effort goes into keeping the costs as low as possible and the hours as long as possible for working parents. The majority of actively involved parents were UPs.
There is a freedom in being a UP. It can be hard, when , exhausted from having to deal with everything on an emotional level, you look around the chaotic house and think “All I have to show for a full day’s work is that my children are still alive – and frankly even that was touch and go today!” However, although you won’t be as financially well off, there can also be a greater freedom to follow your own interests. It is a space which working people often find only in retirement.
A small selection of things which happened here because of UPs exploring their interests: a sustainability project, free music theory lessons, and a ward swing to the Lib Dems in 2010’s local government election.
I’ve learnt more about human nature, how things work and networking in the past 8 years as a UP than in all my working life. My children get to see that they and the things I care about are as important as earning money for the sake of it.
I don’t think it’s right for government to give higher value to working parents. There is no right answer, just what works for your family and a liberal approach is to encourage and celebrate different approaches.
* Karen Wilkinson is is a mother of 3, Chair of Thornbury & Yate LibDems and co-founder of Marshfield Energy Project and the non-aligned campaign “Parents Want A Say”