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‘The concept of adult dependency is becoming increasingly outdated in a society in which partners generally regard themselves as equals rather than as breadwinner and dependent’.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 The concept of a parent at home is outdated.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 Outdated.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>