If George Osborne thinks his choice-free childcare policy will woo women voters he should think again judging by The Daily Telegraph’s bulging mailbag yesterday.
He needs to learn fast that women don’t like being told what to do by a man, least of all by an honorary feminist who’s only listened to his feminist female colleagues. And the subject on which women want to be dictated to least of all is when they should go back to work after the birth of their children – indeed, if ever, before they have grown up sufficiently.
The idea that women will thank him for encouraging them to work uninterrupted through their childrearing years, indeed making it impossible to do otherwise, is as naïve as his policy is wrong. So too is the Government’s clearly communicated message that their one directional childcare policy is ‘supporting’ women or is family friendly, as the Telegraph’s mailbag so clearly shows.
Maybe George should wise up and stop listening to careerist female colleagues and start heeding the Telegraph’s correspondents – women they have failed to represent; women whose role at home as mothers and homemakers is so undervalued. What their letters point to is the total (and arrogant) failure of government to quantify their worth not just to the welfare of children, but also for the health and welling of society.
How can policymakers be persuaded to recognise that overworked households cannot remain healthy households? Rosalind Oliver asks. Well, she makes a pretty good stab at it. Practically everything her family eats she cooks from scratch she explains:
“It’s sometimes rewarding, mostly tedious and undoubtedly a complete waste of my former skills,” she writes, I suspect ironically, but she does it “because I believe that to rely on convenience foods is to compromise my family’s health”.
So George, what about computing the long-term savings to our beleaguered health service that financially rewarding her responsible commonsense (as opposed to childcare) would bring?
As Shirley Clayton suggests, instead of spending money on childcare, why doesn’t the Government give it to the mothers who stay at home? Why not indeed? Her instinct – that it would see a return to better-mannered children who’ve benefitted from a family life and not been shunted off to childminders – is backed by the research evidence, evidence that George Osborne is either impervious to, unaware of or simply not interested in.
He shouldn’t be. For the fact is that higher the proportion of children from daycare entering primary school the higher the chances such classrooms will be disruptive and difficult for teachers to manage and teach.
Sheila Robbie makes a similar point. Perhaps if one parent stayed at home there would be no need for teachers to take on parental duties such as brushing teeth, she suggests. Commonsense that seems to be in short supply in the Coalition.
While I am about it, George take note. We train teachers to teach, not to perform basic parental duties. In the past parents who failed to perform this most basic of care were deemed neglectful.
Perhaps he is thinking that this encouragement of neglectful parenting is all worth it if the upside is a new cohort of working mothers every year bringing huge tax returns to the Exchequer?
Except that it doesn’t, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies set out very clearly last week. The heavy cost of childcare subsidies has not brought, and is unlikely ever to bring, the Exchequer concomitant returns. It is simply not cost-effective however much it inflates GDP figures.
Nor should the Chancellor labour under the impression that female voters are blind to the fundamental illogicality of the Government’s position on this or on questions of social and personal responsibility.
Margaret Rodgers summarises it perfectly. I can do no better than leave you with her words:
“George Osborne wants to encourage stay-at-home mothers to ‘work’. The NHS wants us to take responsibility for our physical and mental health. The two are not mutually exclusive.
“Borrowing for September rose to £11.8 billion, reportedly due to weak tax receipts. The majority of mothers returning to work would fall beneath the tax threshold, so increased funding for child care would offer no financial benefit to the Government.
Mr Osborne wants to encourage stay-at-home mothers into jobs. This mother intends to encourage him out of one.”
He should not be surprised.