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.