Combine work with families or else. The Conservative Party’s message to stay-at-home mums came over loud and clear yesterday.
Babies’ and infants’ needs, happiness or wishes don’t come into it. The question ‘what about the children?’ has no place in the Conservative’s ‘combine work with family’ dictat, if you want a financial break from government and not be penalised. Considerations about babies’ prior need for maternal attachment and bonding, or about the irreplaceability of mother love, are not features of this policy.
It is ironic.
For David Cameron could not have been more passionate in his speech to the party conference yesterday when telling the story of his son Ivan’s tragic illness and death.
He “knows what it’s like to go to hospital night after night with a child in your arms knowing that when you get there, you have people who will care for that child and love that child like their own.”
And there is no doubting his sincerity. His gratitude was heartfelt, as was his concern – nay anger – that anyone would think he’d put the possibility of such care at risk for other people’s children.
About the welfare of babies and children in general no such passion is forthcoming. Advocating hugging a hoodie is the nearest he’s got to highlighting children’s need for love and security since he became PM. A refusal to acknowledge or accept babies’ fundamental and unique physical and social need for mother care is now a hallmark of all the parties’ family policies.
So is their across the board refusal to acknowledge that offloading this role onto third party institutional care has costs – economic, social and psychological.
No heart-strings are pulled by Cameron or his Cabinet on behalf of the thousands of babies consigned from early in the morning to early in the evening to daycare baby rooms, deprived of their mothers for hours on end; or for the toddlers and infants who suffer 12 hour elongated and exhausting days away from home.
Nor is concern expressed for the beleaguered and belittled mother at home resisting the blandishments of government or society, or for those mothers forced back to work far sooner than they would wish.
This is an emotion-free zone. Neither mothers nor babies have feelings or needs in the world of Cameroonian conservatism.
They have to be fitted strictly within the parameter parents’ work patterns.
Basically, babies and mothers alike can stuff it if they don’t subscribe to ‘working hard and doing the right thing’ as defined by Mr Cameron and his mechanistically minded crew.
No wonder Nicky Morgan’s emollience stopped short when it came to stay-at-home mums on Woman’s Hour yesterday. When pressed by Jenni Murray on what help she would give mothers who wanted to be at home, Morgan went perceptibly silent. What about an allowance for those that care at home? Murray asked.
After a long pause (she had barely drawn breath in the interview to that point) Ms Morgan replied with a non sequitur: childcare was important. Then with some hesitation, in an apparent effort to stay on message, she said: “We do have to realise that, er, at the end of the day, er, we do have an economic situation where we don’t have a lot of additional money to spend and I want women, and um parents … to be able to make the choice about balancing work and family life…. You know we do need people to be working and they need to be able to make that choice.”
So there we have it. That’s the one choice – to be an ‘out at work’ mum, but never to be a ‘work at home mum’ caring for baby herself. To get ‘help’ mum must offload child care onto third party child care courtesy of the generous child care subsidies offered from those ‘limited financial resources”
Moulding mothers in the image of these female ministers, who have not let their children stand in the way of their careers, is the order of the day in the modern Conservative party.
Never mind the cost of leaving babies and toddlers in the tender care of one of the 4,000 nurseries that Ofsted reported recently are not up to scratch.
Neither Dave or Nicky seems to have thought about that. Yet one in six nurseries and pre-schools that are ‘catering for’ some 150,000 babies and toddlers need to make improvements.
Ofsted’s concerns range from poor standards of early education to unsafe premises to gaps in first aid training and staff smoking on the premises.
They have been given two years to get better, but what about the effect of these substandard institutions have on these infants in the meantime? And who says that they will ever come up to scratch?
And even if they are improved, can such institutions ever provide the appropriate start in life for the nation’s children? You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know starting life in a baby room in a daycare centre is far from ideal. As the charity What About The Children points out, the first three years of a baby’s life shape it physically, emotionally and mentally.
How many babies would chose to stay close to their mother, given the choice, between that and being left in a euphemistically entitled Little Dreams or Rainbow nursery baby room? All of them I would venture.
It’s a hypothetical question, but it is one Mr Cameron and his female ministers would do well to ask. With their intransigent policy far too few babies and mothers have any choice at all.
That is hardly a Conservative or a caring policy.