Just that, really.
The future of child benefit, an important payment to every family, is under threat.
Depending on the colour of the next Government, and approaching the issue with cynicism and a little imagination, the benefit could be either restricted to two children; or subsumed into universal credit; or incorporated into tax allowances where both parents are in paid work; before, eventually, poof, disappearing completely.
To understand how this could happen, allow me to take you on a short trip down the history of this important State payment.
Once upon a time, a remarkable woman fought for the right to vote and to stand as a Member of Parliament. One of her most significant campaigns was the right of mothers to receive a mother’s stipend or a family allowance – payable not to the wage earner but to the mother – in recognition of the value and importance of the unpaid work she performed in caring for her family, and to protect her from absolute vulnerability and economic dependence on a partner.
At the last minute, she threatened to refuse to vote on the passing of universal Family Allowances, her baby, unless the payment was specifically, in line with its entire rationale, paid to the mother.
She was a feminist. A child-free one at that. Yet Eleanor Rathbone had the decency, humanity and social conscience to recognise that mothers who were raising their own children deserved respect and protection from economic non-citizenship.
The history of the women’s movement was born in the fight for human rights and economic freedom. It was not simply a battle to seek equality in the workplace. This fact has been forgotten or conveniently suppressed.
How are we heading towards the end of child benefit? Little steps.
In the 1970s, the allowance became a benefit linked in name to the child rather than the mother. Then, the benefit was capped rather than being increased in line with inflation. Finally, the benefit became the focus of the recent Coalition’s most retrograde step of recent times – the removal from a mother of child benefit solely by virtue of her partner’s status as a higher rate taxpayer. Please stay with me – this is a wider issue than the loss to a presumed wealthy family of £20 per week. Please see the relevance of the first step in the demolition of child benefit, whether you agreed with it or not. It is relevant to why you will be at risk of losing yours. In the loss of universality – a payment to all with children – the benefit lost its secure base in the nation’s affection. It lost its protection from attack. Little steps. To resist the destruction of child benefit, we must resist each step leading to it.
The recent restriction was imposed on, for example, a woman who has no income of her own despite her sister, earning a wage of her own, continuing to receive it and becoming a beneficiary of politicians’ desperate bidding war to offer greater and greater subsidy for childcare. She has no income of her own, including other benefits, because the State assesses a family as a unit for the grant of benefits but as individuals for tax. With the exception of this one anomaly: child benefit. Suddenly, for the removal of a once-universal benefit (rather than its grant) you are assessed as a unit.
That, on any assessment, is nothing less than fiscal hypocrisy and financial exploitation of loving families.
Not only was it hypocritical, when it came to ‘higher earners’, it was economic nonsense: the mother who stays at home is not a higher earner, she is a non-earner. Single earning families lose child benefit if one parent earns over £60,000; yet dual income families keep it on joint incomes of about £100,000 so long as neither cross the £60,000 threshold individually. The dual income family has the benefit of two personal allowances, meaning the family pays less tax that the first family who had lost child benefit. To top it off, there is the political one-upmanship on childcare, for example, on joint incomes of up to £300,000.
The genius of the Coalition’s step was that, in invoking gender-neutral language, they concealed an attack on women. It was veiled by talk of ‘families’ and ‘benefits’, but, actually, the announcement was “we are going to remove from mothers a hard-won payment to recognise the unpaid work they do and the cost of raising a family, particularly if the mother is not in employment”. The pernicious nature of the step was that it relied on the politics of envy: the Government stood back and watched as women criticised other women; as the ‘poor’ bemoaned the universality of the benefit to include the ‘wealthy’; and child-free people bemoaned the existence of the benefit at all.
We witnessed the end of universal family allowance. We witnessed the betrayal of women. And not one ‘feminist’ politician stood up and raised the roof. Shameful.
Where were the politicians who are prepared to fight for mothers as mothers? Where were the politicians who knew their history, and realised what was being attacked?
They were nowhere to be found. They had either given up the fight, out of a disregard, or contempt, for mothers at home; or were ignorant of the history of family allowances and unwilling to open their ears to be educated by silly little women – irrelevant throwbacks who didn’t realise that the world had changed: women were not supposed to care for their own children; women were supposed to get back to work.
In Election Year 2015, the dominant brand of political feminism has no place for mothers doing mothering work; and the ‘women’s issues’ of Westminster are restricted to employment rights, flexible working, shared parental leave, childcare costs and, well, anything but the right of a mother to care for her children herself and policies which might ease the pressure on single income families or help a parent make the choice to stay at home.
The childcare debate risks becoming a sleight of hand – busy clocking up ‘free’ hours’ childcare – families and commentators risk missing the seeds of the dismantling of child benefit. And that affects all families, right?
There needs to be a discussion about the failure of the big three parties to pledge to reinstate universal child benefit or to pledge to protect it absolutely from further dismantling or cuts. I will say it again, it is an important payment for every family with children. Quite simply, the refusal of politicians – particularly feminist leaning ones – to back universal child benefit or at the very least to protect it in the future – as an election pledge – is a disgrace.
Please share this post, and press your candidates on this issue, before a Jewel of the Women’s Movement is squandered and your rightful inheritance, child benefit, is lost.
You have been following the news. You consider yourself politically alert.
Well, have I got news for you:
You are probably unaware that a manifesto has been published by a significant and nationwide organisation representing thousands of families – and many more beyond whose interests coincide – which challenges a raging political consensus.
You will be unaware of it because, despite a press release to over 200 media contacts announcing its launch, not one ran with it. Not ONE.
The political policies are on the table. One look and it is clear that there is an emergent political consensus in town and its name is childcare. Reading the manifestos and listening to announcements and interviews, it’s painful to realise that a parent who wishes to care for their own children is a political pariah; and frustrating to witness the spectre of a taboo – children’s developmental and emotional needs.
What is a concern, for a time of heightened democratic engagement, is that no mainstream media outlet is challenging or breaking out of this ‘free‘ childcare cocoon.
Instead, we are treated to articles which totally deride the idea of a ‘stay-at-home-mothers brigade‘. And beyond that, silence.
So, a treat for you. An exclusive, if you will. Mothers at Home Matter’s MAHMifestohas five pillars which seek to:
1. Promote better understanding of children’s developmental needs and the importance of family life and a loving home environment, with a particular focus on maternal care.
2. Bring about changes in the tax and benefits system and employment policy, to give mothers and fathers more realistic choice to provide care at home.
3. Enhance the status and self-esteem of mothers at home, celebrating motherhood and challenging negative language that devalues the work of mothering.
4. Call for a wider debate about the value of ‘care’: a caring society need to value both paid and unpaid care, overwhelmingly carried out by women.
5. Challenge a system which fails to represent, in policy debates, the voice of those who look after children, particularly mothers, who provide the bulk of care.
There is such an imbalance in popular debate that there has been article after article about ‘free hours’, celebrating the dawn of a new consensus: each political party engaging in a one-upmanship contest on the issue. That contest neglects families who wish for one parent to be in with a chance of staying a home with their children; fails to redress a discriminatory and punishing tax and allowances system; and refuses to acknowledge the cost of childcare when undertaken by a parent (such as loss of income, dwarfing the outgoing cost of ‘formal’ childcare).
So far this election season, it seems that no mention is being made of children outside of a nursery environment – count how many politicians have been photographed in cwq1hildcare settings. Childcare is (in policymakers’ eyes) a formal, paid, arrangement which contributes to GDP: might that be why they promote paid-for childcare so much? In fact, Labour launched their ‘women’s manifesto’ in a nursery, demonstrating to any mother who wants to be at home with her children that she is not on their radar, not worthy of mention, and not on their list of priorities. It was a calculated decision. It was designed to speak volumes.
By ignoring the MAHMifesto, the media is airbrushing parental care out of debate and policymakers are clapping their hands with glee – keen for everyone to be an economic drone, regardless of the needs and wishes of countless families. Policies and modern life have made the cost of living so tight for so many; no help is offered to those who wish to care for their children themselves (thereby forcing them into paid employment or struggling by on modest incomes); yet it is seen as a victory that more and more mothers are being forced by financial pressures to enter the workplace, and a victory that all main political parties are unanimously pursuing childcare subsidy as the only issue that matters in family life. There is no consideration of alternative ways, such as those explored by groups such as Mothers at Home Matter, to ease pressures on families.
A media agenda is silencing, just as ruthlessly as do the political parties, any mention of children’s needs and the wishes of many parents, particularly mothers. to care for their young children themselves. The way in which political parties are ignoring the wishes of many families, and the way the media enables and feeds this agenda, is fundamentally undemocratic.
So where do we stand? It comes down to this: Childcare Carrots are being dangled with increasing manipulation by a political class which has no respect for family life; and the media is failing to widen the debate to show that families and children who are desperate for family care, not childcare, are being beaten with the Stick.
Mothers at Home Matter, a voluntary organisation, works so incredibly hard to represent the voices of many parents who feel ignored and sidelined in the current political consensus on childcare. It is party-political neutral.
It has released its own election manifesto, MAHMifesto. It is fantastic. It puts family life, children’s needs right at the top, challenges the discriminatory tax and benefits system, seeks to encourage a better regard for mothers who stay at home, calls for a wider debate on care (whether paid or unpaid), and challenges a system which, in policy debate, ignores the voice of mothers at home. Please do take a read and share it if you like what you see.
I think you can probably tell that I LOVE this organisation. Great work, Mothers at Home Matter.
Click HERE to download the MAHMifesto.
That’s it. I’m officially one of those mothers. You know the type. The ones who whinge and (red) whine about how their kid should be entitled to go to their local school. Or, for that matter, get a GP appointment. Yes, the really unreasonable ones. How dare they?
I have been a bit quiet since Thursday, I admit. The reason? My son has been offered a school outside of my town, requiring a two-mile walk with a toddler in tow (get that driving licence, mummy) and one which was not on the list of three preferences – all of which are significantly geographically closer. Indeed, the first choice, totally oversubscribed, is a mere 0.4 miles away.
Sadly, I am not alone and many families are facing worse. Families up and down the country have discovered that they live in a ‘no man’s land’ where, actually, no, you can’t send your 4-year-old to school up the road. You have to drive them in rush hour for over half an hour (or, in car-less families, dump them in a taxi, alone, and ship them off) to school in a village they have never been to before, with mostly children who live miles away from them, and suck it up.
Well, given this is election season, and given all the talk from all the political parties about what they are actually going to do if they get into Government, could I suggest one, teeny, tiny, little thing?
Build. Some. New. Bleedin’. Schools.
If politicians are going to promise building new homes, and thereby expand a population in a town, for goodness sake build an extra primary school and require new GP surgeries to cope with any increasing population in a given area.
Fortunately, I am a ‘stay-at-home-mother’ who can home educate until a place becomes available. Lucky me, Mother Political; lucky son, Will Get to Go On Holidays in Term Time. But for those parents who have to send their children to school – their families are being let down.
It’s so simple. I’m not talking creating bulge classes and rendering primary schools Educational Behemoths who lose their character and personal touch of the Headteacher actually knowing the name of every pupil. I’m not talking expanding class sizes, putting intolerable pressure on teachers, and reducing the personal attention each child needs.
If a population is expanding in an area, there should be an obligation on Government, local or central (who actually cares which) to provide new schools and fund the opening of new GP surgeries. This is the least the State can do – especially given that it refuses to outlaw schools discriminating against pupils on the basis of their parent’s religion (whether genuine or contrived for the purpose of getting-little-Harry-into-a-local-school).
Just build new schools. I’m not talking new-fangled free schools of the Gove-era variety. Just create new schools, fund them, and allow children to skip, happily, in to be tested to the hilt (ok, maybe not the last bit). Lucky it’s election season and we can start banging on about it to politicians who will have to stand on doorsteps hearing Tony Blair’s famous line: Education, Education, Education.
A simple pledge: we will build more schools and provide more teachers. We will prioritise the availability of education within a local school for every child. Congratulations. You got my vote.
So how’s this for a field of many parent’s dreams: Build them, and they will come.
That is all.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/19544554@N00/288465527″>買ったコート</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
An MP has nailed it in a letter to his constituent, shared with Mothers at Home Matter. Here it comes, the clarification we have all needed, lest we labour under the misunderstanding that all human beings depend in some way on one another, that we depend on others more or less at different times in our lives, but that we are all equal. Are you ready?
‘The concept of adult dependency is becoming increasingly outdated in a society in which partners generally regard themselves as equals rather than as breadwinner and dependent’.
And there, ladies and gentlemen, is everything you need to know about how the political class regards a parent who stays at home caring for the children. Not performing a valuable role. Not contributing equally to family life. Not supporting her partner by keeping the house and home running. Not doing something financially incalculable – loving and caring for her children.
No. She is nothing but a burden. A dependent. Much like a child. Not equal to her partner.
Wait, you say. Didn’t he say that couples regarded themselves as equals? Yes he most certainly did. But the subtext? Only if they both engage in paid employment – financial considerations are all that matter. Nevermind that families where one looks after the children regard themselves as equal human beings doing equally valuable work, for politicians it’s all about financial equality. On Mumsnet in 2014 Nick Clegg stated in a guest post that the crucial thing all parents consider before going to work is how much money they will keep after childcare costs and travel. Well, forgive me Cleggy, but the crucial question in many families is actually ‘what is best for our family and our children?’ But his statement does rather reveal all about the political premise which pushes more and more mothers into employment, against her wishes. It does rather betray the bottom line in the heart of the political class: money.
As an aside, the anomaly of course is that the economic system will happily endorse the idea of breadwinners and dependents when it comes to assessment of families for benefits. But, hey, it works in their favour in that context so that’s ok.
So, now it’s clear. The concept of a parent at home is outdated. Hence, being all progressive and egalitarian, modern politicians are all out to demolish it.
Nevermind that millions of parents would truly wish for one of them to be able to remain home with the children. Outdated. Nevermind that millions of mothers desperately wish to be with their young children instead of dropping them off at nursery, mother and child in tears. Outdated. Nevermind that many families are happy with their set-up of one person in employment and the other keeping the entire family afloat emotionally and practically. Outdated.
So there we have it.
Nothing more to see. Get your coat on, get out to work, and enough already with this outdated, Edwardian, archaic idea that a parent might actually wish to care for their children at home. Be off with you and your old-fashioned, twee, idea that a partnership of two equals can be trusted to set up their family life as they see fit.
But here’s the rub. The only people rendering a parent at home dependent are policymakers at the heart of the State itself.
Yes, I wholeheartedly support the freedom of parents to decide that one of them should remain home with the children – just as I support the freedom of others to both engage in employment. That’s the beauty of democracy and Western civilisation – it’s all about that fancy neo-liberal panacea of ‘choice’, right?
But what I do NOT support is the State denigrating the choices of families for one parent, usually the mother, to remain at home with the children. What I do NOT support is the idea of the State deeming that set up to be an entirely private matter, with no consideration or support for the parent who remains home to do the worthwhile task of raising the children. What I do NOT support is the transformation of the denigration of a mother at home into economic policies which RENDER her economically dependent by removing, say, child benefit, or refusing to pay a citizen’s or carer’s income.
The problem with the robotic trotting out of ‘equality’ statements is that they bear no resemblance to what millions of families actually want for their family. It takes legitimate concern about the financial risks a woman bears when she takes a significant period of time out of the workforce – see ideas rooted in feminist theory which decry the fate of women to a ‘gender contract’ of dependency legally, financially and socially on men – and turns it into a new oppressive gender contract, namely, the obligation to participate in paid employment.
What policymakers fail to do is to take the breadwinner/dependency model and all its pitfalls and to take the NEXT LOGICAL STEP which is to provide a stipend (as the basis of family allowance was – specifically to protect women from absolute dependence) or a carer’s allowance… whether it be citizen’s income or whatever, so that nobody, by virtue of caring for their families (a worthwhile and valuable occupation) should be rendered financially dependent on a partner.
Hey presto! No financial dependency on a partner. Everybody’s equal. Problem solved.
Yes, you heard me right. I can appreciate the arguments about financial dependency within partnerships – women and children are significantly financially worse off after family breakdowns – but the answer is NOT to provide no support to families where one parent cares for the children. The answer is for the State to treat both partners as equal, both performing valuable services to the community and family, and to ensure that the parent at home is adequately supported.
But then, this type of policy change is not going to happen unless people demand it; and there is much work to do, after all, the Coalition Government did oversee the removal of child benefit from the partner of a higher rate taxpayer, rendering her – you guessed it – entirely financially dependent on her partner. A totally retrograde step, undermining the entire rationale for the introduction of family allowance, and an utterly sexist and anti-women step – one concealed only by judicious use of gender-neutral language. Shame on them.
And that does rather demonstrate that policymakers seek to render women at home increasingly financially dependent on a partner (rather than doing away with such dependence on a partner by a citizen’s income) and THEN, in the name of freeing her from that dependency, to force her out to work.
There’s nothing quite like the compulsion to be free.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/5857490263″>£10 British Pounds in plant pots</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>