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Laura Perrins: George Osborne read my lips – we want to care for our children ourselves


What is it about George Osborne et al? What is it they just do not get about care at home mums? Many mums who care for their children themselves do so because they want to. That may seem odd to some, but it is true. We are not ‘missing from the workforce’ and we are not ‘priced out of the workforce because of the high costs of childcare.’ We just want to care for our children ourselves. Why is that so difficult to understand?

The IFS is the latest body to doubt the wisdom of the childcare benefit. They understand that for many families who care for their children they do so because they want to. Now, it is true of course, that for many mothers working outside the home is a necessity and the childcare benefit will be welcome. If it helps with strained family finances then I am glad, but I hazard a guess that a transferrable tax allowance that allowed the family to decide themselves how to care for the children would be more liberal and make more economic sense than trying to solve a supply-side problem with a demand-side measure.

But for those families that can, after making great sacrifices, care for their children at home, this childcare benefit will not change their minds. So no, George, even if you offer to pay mothers to leave their children and use formal childcare, some mothers will still refuse. The only way you can separate them from their kids is if you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

The Coalition’s own survey told them this: among parents who have not used any childcare in the past year, the main reason given was not the cost of childcare (13 percent) but that they would rather look after their children themselves (71 percent). In fact 77 percent of these families said “there was nothing that would encourage them to use formal childcare.” Do you get this, George?

So why the disconnect? Although it is always dangerous to impute motive, I suspect they really just cannot understand why a middle-class well educated mother would want to care for her own children. It is just a ‘waste of their talents’, so why do it?

We can see this with Janice Turner’s latest piece supporting taxpayer’s money covering nanny fees. She gives a number of reasons why nannies are good choice for a family: they are often cheaper than double nursery fees and are more convenient. In London at least they are well paid. This is all true.

No one is saying that nannies should be singled out from from the childcare benefit scheme – we just question why families on £60,000 are essentially direct debiting their child benefit to families on £300,000 to cover said nanny fees?

Ms Turner feels that anyone who is against the childcare benefit is prejudiced, but she really reveals her own prejudice by presuming nannies are ‘less academic’ than their ‘highly educated middle-class employers’. I suspect many of the well-paid nannies in London are not ‘less academic’ and enjoy caring for children. That is why they do it – they do not feel they are getting a raw deal, or the scraps from the middle-class table.

Further prejudice against people who care for children, be they mothers or paid carers, is displayed in a new book “Getting to 50/50.” This is an American book but got top billing on the Radio 4 Today programme. It is ‘how to’ get to a position where husband and wife do 50 percent of childcare and 50 percent of paid work each. Only they do not do 50 percent of the childcare, as there are paid carers involved.

Now, if your child is in nursery or with a nanny for ten hours a day then neither parent is doing the childcare. The paid carer is. That is fine but at least acknowledge her existence. She is not invisible, she is not a non-person and she probably should be at least recognised in the great 50-50 split. She is the one who may even put the kids to bed before you get home so really she is doing 100 percent of the childcare on that particular day.

So let’s be realistic about who is propping up the uber-professional couple. It is the paid carer – the one who wipes the tears and holds the hands at school drop off. But perhaps these ‘less academic’ people just do not count.

Finally, on Woman’s Hour a few weeks ago we even had an employed mother who said she only likes to spend three hours a day with the kids and that includes holidays. She thought it should be borne in mind that previously it was the slaves that did the childcare. So really, in her opinion it is a dud deal that should be kept to a minimum.

So is it any wonder that the ruling class are so disconnected from the desires of mothers when the main-stream media are so disdainful of caring? Perhaps it should come as no surprise that they cannot understand why a university educated woman would want to care for her children.

Well, for some of us at least, we do want to be there to care. We want to be there for the dreary bits, and the joyous bits.

And no, you cannot pay us to do otherwise.

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