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Kathy Gyngell: Osborne’s daycare obsession is a time bomb under the welfare of the next generation


The other day I overheard two young working mothers discuss whether they should be working four or five days a week.  It was depressing. They were not talking about whether a day off would give them much needed or wanted time with their babies.  No, they’d both already decided that only quality time mattered, not  quantity. They were too engrossed with what would suit them personally to think that baby might benefit from having an extra day with mummy.

Such selfish and insensitive attitudes are not, I know, representative of most mothers.

But they are not, I suspect, a million miles from the me generation, and feminist attitudes of the women that George Osborne interacts with at work and at home.

His female fellow politicians, from Nicky Morgan to Liz Truss and from Harriet Harman to Yvette Cooper, cannot have spent much time with their babies; they are all women who have single-mindedly put their careers and political ambitions ahead of family and childrearing.

Yet we have this metropolitan minority of non-maternally oriented women representing the rest of us and deciding our children’s fate.

It is hard to credit that George Osborne would have dreamt up, let alone got away with, this latest salvo in his war on stay-at-home, or would be stay-at-home, mums, without the approval of the metropolitan sisterhood.

It seems, they granted him  ‘permission’ or even encouraged him without the most important question in the child-care debate even being asked: “How will this affect the child?”

For the answer they blind themselves to is: “Badly”.

“Childcare was not invented for children’s sakes, but for adult needs,” as child psychologist, Steve Biddulph, said.  Those who childcare affects most deeply, the children, are wordless, without influence over the political arbiters of their fate.

Since politicians make it clear that infants should be neither seen nor heard today,  since they are so lacking in imagination  about the reality of daycare – apart from pre-arranged TV visits, and since  none will have had the joy of a whole day in a baby room then  I can only suggest someone send them this resume of  research on the impact of daycare. For it is  daycare, not grandma care or cooperation with another mum,  that George’s childcare tax allowance leads to.

In summary the research shows that:

  • Maternal deprivation at an early age affects the mother-child bonding process, and impairs a child’s emotional, social and psychological development. (A higher proportion of children under age one in daycare “show anxious-avoidance attachment to their mothers than do home-reared infants”).
  • Maternal separation can profoundly affect the brain’s biochemistry, with lifelong consequences for growth and mental ability. (Findings support clinical research which shows that infants cared for in institutions grow slowly and have behavioural retardation).
  • The work of psychologists like John Bowlby, Jay Belsky, and Mary Ainsworth, show a clear connection between extended periods of maternal absence, and lengthy stays in daycare (as little as 10 hours a week) for infants, and later developmental problems.
  • The important role of instilling values, purpose and responsibility are best met by a child’s biological parents at an early age, so too is the cultivation of a sense of security and well-being. This depends, more than anything, on the attachment relationship that a young child forges with his mother  which “forms the foundation stone of personality.”

So should we want or trust our government to be our baby-sitter? I for one don’t, on principle.

Ministers’ cavalier lack of concern about the consequences of too much and too early daycare, of depriving children of parental care in early childhood,  renders them in my view quite unfit.

George Osborne is clearly more interested in his GDP figures than he is in children. Emotional intelligence is clearly not his thing. Why would he care if they  grow up to be withdrawn, disruptive, insecure, or even intellectually stunted?

However you might think someone in Government would be interested in adding up these hidden costs. Not least because the largest long-term study of the impact of daycare, which began in 1991, conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found that the longer the hours a child stays in daycare, the more aggressive, disobedient and difficult to get along with it becomes.

Feminists , male honorary feminists, and the all powerful childcare lobby (childcare is big business in the UK thanks to whacking great government subsidies) determinedly dispute these findings. They have constantly advocated the ‘educational’ benefits of ‘early intervention’,  and influenced government  studies focused on highly disadvantaged children, on their short term and limited literacy or numeracy gains ‘. Despite the fanfares, it now turns out that any gains fade out by the age of 11 if not earlier.

The fact that babies need a mother’s love and attention until they are three, above and beyond anything else, is predictably not popular with ministerial mothers and career mothers.  Their  justification that their babies benefit from being socialised does not stack up either. Child development experts tell us what any observant mother can see, that children do not begin engage in peer play until they are about two years old; they do not understand rules until they are older, though they will obey to avoid punishment

It is the quality of the love and care given in the first three to five years of life that is the main factor in how a child comes to think, to learn, to love, to care and to cooperate with other people.

That’s why we should be hesitant indeed about  encouraging  infants’ separation from the mother or parent whose love a carer cannot replicate.

It’s why:“ Using financial or career penalties to blackmail women into leaving infants who are scarcely settled into life outside wombs that are still bleeding is no less than barbarous,”  as childcare guru Penelope Leach baldly stated in her book Children First.  

That’s how George Osborne is beginning to look – barbarous.

He should note that even Sweden, which puts 92 per cent of its infants in daycare at 18 months (and suffers all the consequences of its misguided social experiment – the ones that have been described above) has not gone to these extremes in separating babies from their mothers.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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