Belinda Brown: Priti Patel take note. We are sliding back to a peasant economy where the village looks after the kids

Priti Patel you have got it wrong. And if your parents knew how your  policies are eroding the fabric of our society, they would be ashamed.  The reason that your parents like so many other migrants to this society were able to contribute so much, culturally and economically, was because they were able to put their families first in a way which you are not allowing us to do.

However I am not going to focus on the way in which constantly upping the pressure to work is damaging childhood and our family life to a degree which will cause pain for generations to come. That has been done again and again and again but still you politicians won’t listen to us ordinary women. So I will focus on other spurious assumptions and claims.

First, personal career ambitions are the prerogative of a privileged minority, not the majority who simply go out to work.  In fact only 20 per cent of mothers attach importance to “following their career”, and even this statistic could be lower given the feminist biases which underlie much research.  In fact evidence shows that these days it is mothers who are increasing their rates of work, whilst childless women are decreasing suggesting that it is provisioning our families – rather than fulfilling our career ambitions which underlie female employment.  These days caring for our families has been reduced to material provisioning as our partner’s wage has sunk so low we can no longer be supported in all the other dimensions of family work.

As for this OECD statistic, it looks as if nobody has actually explored what is going on.  Ever since women started entering the workforce in significant numbers increases in female employment are not accompanied by growth or even stability in rates of male employment. Rather, as rates of female employment go up the rate of male employment goes down.  And while female rates of inactivity decrease, male inactivity is on the rise.

What this means is that far from the scenario of growth which you assume what we really have is a pattern of replacement. A regular zero-sum game.  As a result rates of employment have remained  stable rather than increased  – and  there may be other costs incurred.  Although male part-time employment has been increasing, women’s rate of part-time employment remains significantly higher than men’s.  This invokes the possibility that rather than maintaining the hours of work done per head of population we could be talking about a contraction - with  a shift away from male full-time employment to females who prefer to work part-time.

From a personal perspective I am all for flexible working. It does enable us to combine family life with employment. But there is no real evidence that it contributes to economic productivity. And   don’t conflate flexible employment  with the hard grind,  dedication and commitment to the workplace – the lifeblood of your much espoused career gains.

As for giving families flexibility and choice – this is something that we still had a bit of when I first became a mother 22 years ago. But  generations of two income families have raised the bar for everyone, increasing the cost of living to a point where we all have to go out to work.  Now we have arrived at a situation much more similar to that found in weak, developing and peasant economies, where care of children was left to the extended families, villages and communities which we no longer have and women had to go out to work. Thanks Priti.

Belinda Brown

  • jinna

    great article!