11 February 2015

The Public Purse

There are strong economic drivers for ‘better’ childcare. Childcare costs UK parents/guardians hard-earned cash for every hour used until free universal part-time places kick in for 3 and 4 year olds (earlier, at 2, for eligible parents) and a cost remains even then for full-time care if required. There are some parents who lose out financially by going back to work and having a child or children in childcare (and despite what the media would have us believe, many who persevere, for longer-term career development, despite this).

Okay, okay, already, by this point in this blog post, some readers will be ready to make One Of The Comments. Hold on, you’ll get a chance!

Would we be happier paying childcare costs if we had gold standard childcare? What would make us the ‘best’ in Europe? Well firstly, how to define ‘gold standard’? Words we use are: regulated, accessible, flexible. Childcare is expensive in the UK but quality is high compared to other nations in Europe. Universal childcare funding doesn’t automatically lead to reduced occupational segregation so to be the ‘best’ at it doesn’t just relate to the availability and quality of care, it is also crucial that the wider public understand the social and economic worth of childcare.

Not investing in childcare is not investing in women. It is women, in the main, who are able to return to work when childcare is available. It is women, primarily, who work frontline in the care sector and unless we place greater value on the work, the conditions, pay and the gender balance in the sector will not improve.

Yeah, yeah, you are reading this post but still have a fundamental objection to what I am talking about – it’s ok, your opportunity to make One Of The Comments will come.

This week, as we approach General Election season (AKA real life The Thick of It) the UK political parties are wheeling out their family friendly policies: More childcare! More time off and higher paternity pay for new dads! Ed Miliband isn’t  appearing on ITV flagship daytime show This Morning just to encourage more SAHMs to vote Labour because he's a great dad and it's nothing other than a personality contest. It is because, in the long term, childcare is a public good, for children, parents, the community and the economy.

I know, I know, but you’re an individual, and that’s different. Hold it in, for one more paragraph.

The UK does not currently have replacement level fertility (n.b.Scotland has the lowest level of the four nations). Would better (cheaper, more flexible, more accessible) childcare increase fertility rates? People are delaying having children and having smaller families, reasons that appear to be at the heart of this are cost, career and lifestyle choices. But find any story on a news website about child benefit payments and you’ll find 500 comments below it, the overwhelming number of these complaining about how this benefit should be scrapped. Child benefit is a cheek. Maternity pay takes liberties. Paternity pay is even worse. Is starting a family, one of the most personal of decisions, being influenced too heavily by the public's perception of parenting?

 OK, feel free to make One Of the Comments now* (*choose from any or all of the following):

You had the kid, you pay for it
Or
I’m paying for other people’s children when I don't have any
Or
I’m not allowed time off whenever I feel like it
Or
Don’t have them if you can’t afford them
Or
Childcare is an expense you have to suck up if you want a baby and a job
Or
Women wanting their jobs back after maternity leave is a right effort all round
Or
A comment of your own choosing to further demonstrate why one of the least deserving groups to receive any kind of universal benefit are parents and the country's next generation* (*here you might like to point out that there are certain 'breeders' who are even less deserving of help than others, and for whom sterilisation would be a better option)
Or
A seemingly socially acceptable 'I'm not being funny but [insert insulting comment here]' variation on the above theme

As governments propose and bring into practice the policies that support the arguments around the greater benefits of childcare, how can we change the perception of the general public to raise the status of childcare and those who work in the sector? Well, I don’t have the answer, yet, but my PhD Literature Review might shed some light on this.

The issue is the perception of what ‘the public purse’ should and shouldn’t pay for, and the feeling that one person’s taxes are directly funding another’s ‘high life’ living. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’m trying to find examples from real life to demonstrate issues, so here we go.

I’ve breastfed my 14 month old son to date. He was a huge baby (11lb+ at birth) with a huge appetite. I‘ve not had a negative comment about breastfeeding. Nobody has asked me to cover up a nipple or put a sheet over ‘it’ and I haven’t used a designated feeding space unless my little one was feeling fractious. It is exceptional, in my experience and the experience of the breastfeeding mothers I know, for a negative comment to be made. Breastfed children breastfeed a lot so there are many opportunities for comment should the general public be steaming with rage at the sight of a nipple. And I wonder if it is not because of equality that comments are kept at bay. I wonder if by breastfeeding I’m not seen to be impacting on the public purse.

I have, on the other hand, been made most unwelcome by customers in a café, on a day when it was pouring with rain, my baby was in his pram and I was visibly exhausted from walking him up and down the street to get him to sleep (hello to the two ladies in a café in Strathbungo who refused to even tuck a chair in to let me past let alone sit near them!). Was it because I was about to blow my child benefit/maternity pay on a decaf coffee?

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Bonus Material!

These two small tales don't really bear as much direct relation to the above blog post but I also want to mention them because they happened and they were nice and you just don't get that much in life:

1)  The kindness that was shown to me in a well-known Swedish flat-pack furniture store.
I had a hungry, small (well, by his standards anyway) baby and I was in the middle of the café trying to settle and feed him. For ages. A male member of staff discreetly asked me if he could get me a drink from the self-service area. I offered to pay for it, he refused to let me.

2) The conversation of older ladies in a department store café.
I overheard them commenting, louder than they needed to because they wanted me to hear: “Isn’t that lovely to see? A young mum feeding her baby.” I think by “young” they presumed I am younger than I am – happy baby and a happy mummy, it was a double win that day! 

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