Lies, Damn Lies and Childcare

I have a little something for you. I think you might agree that it is quite revealing.

A survey has found that a significant number of mothers want to care for their children themselves; yet the headline message of the survey fails even to mention it – emphasising, instead, childcare and maternal employment. It does rather reinforce, in case we were in any doubt, the message that a mother’s place is in a job.

The Figures

Here’s the figures, based on a survey of almost 6,200 parents:

  • Over a third (36%) of the mothers in employment (66% of the mothers of children under 15) would prefer to stay at home and look after their children if they could afford it.
  • Over half (54%) of the mothers in employment (66% of the mothers of children under 15) said that if they could afford it, they would work fewer hours to spend more time looking after their children.
  • Around a half (47%) of those not in employment (34% of the mothers of children under 15) do not wish to gain employment.

That is quite staggering, is it not? If you combine those figures of 36% of 66% and 47% of the remaining 34% and you get: just under 40% of all mothers asked want to stay at home with their children. .

Surely, then, the headline figure might as well have been: Around 40% of mothers would prefer to stay home and look after their children if they could afford it.

If you then factor in the 54% of employed women who said they would work fewer hours and you have a large proportion of an entire generation of women who are desperately calling out for a solution to their financial worries which does not compel them away from their families or into long and longer hours away from their children.

These should be headline figures in a study which finds them, surely?

Er, no.

Welcome to Plan “Get More Mothers Into Work and Manipulate Data About Demand for Childcare”.

The Survey

So where has this come from?

I give you The Department for Education’s Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2014 to 2015, published earlier in March 2016.

It tells us everything we need to know about the agenda and priorities of our governments when it comes to mothers and children: childcare and employment. Not social justice, wealth distribution, basic incomes or valuing care. Rather, it’s about the bottom line and an increasing drive towards ‘full female employment’. Despite the wishes of a great many mothers, it turns out.

Take a look at the language used, too, for it betrays a wholesale devaluation of carework when performed by a parent: ‘workless’ or ‘working mothers’, the clear implication being that unwaged care is not work. Well, let’s say, loud and clear: “Hey: we work, we just don’t get paid, we face tax penalties as a family and are denied subsidies for the carework we do. There is a massive difference”.

So here’s a breakdown of the study:

6,198 parents in England with children under 15 had been interviewed for the study between October 2014 and July 2015. It focuses on the use of childcare and the motivations of parents, specifically women, to use it.

Unlike The Family Test – advice for government departments – this study actually names mothers and focuses on women’s decision to ‘go back to work’. The reason for the sudden departure from genderless language of parents and parenting? To push the ideology that all women need to get ‘back to work’ and, more, that most women want to. It just goes to show: gender neutral language goes out the window when the agenda is ‘set sights on mum and get her down the jobcentre’.

The way the study has been presented demonstrates that it is not a tool to find ways to reflect family preferences or choice. It is a document predicated on the ideological agenda to get ‘women into work’. It is a document to justify ever expanding commodification of childcare provision. As such, key – significant and important – findings are effectively suppressed.

Executive Summary

Just take a look at the Executive Summary at the beginning – which most people read and assume covers the salient points. Wrong. In this study, the ‘Executive Summary’ is a bastardised, photoshopped version of the actual findings of the study, calculated to mislead and intended to support an ideology of increased maternal employment and investment in childcare by anyone but mother.

In the section on childcare, two statistics jump out, namely,

  • Overall, 79% of all families in England with children aged 0 to 14 had used some form of childcare during their most recent term-time week
  • Of parents who have not used any childcare in the past year, the main reasons given related to choice, rather than to constraints. For example two in three of those parents (65%) said they would rather look after their children themselves, while the cost of childcare was cited by fewer parents (12%).

So far, so predictable.

But what interests me is the suppression of figures about maternal preferences.

Here’s a taster:

The Executive Summary’s section on Mothers, Work and Childcare on p 13 talks about:

  • The proportion of mothers in employment (66%).
  • How many of the ‘non-working’ mothers would prefer to go out to work if they had the childcare (53%). (Which, by implication, should mean that fully 47% of mothers who are caring for their children are happy to stay at home, thank you very much. But saying that would skew the focus, rather, wouldn’t it?).
  • Common reasons for women to go back to work, including combining work and childcare, job opportunity or ‘their financial situation’ (read: desperation in 28% for an income).
  • ‘Working mothers’ found childcare helped them to go out to work.

That’s all there is to see folks. Childcare, childcare, childcare. One really would be forgiven for thinking that’s all there is to it. Nothing more, nothing less. Mothers want to work, childcare is the pill.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks, on page 26?

A bit more, actually.


Like some of these glaring omissions from the section on Methodology. I will put the pertinent ones in bold.

  • Partnered mothers (32%) were more likely than lone mothers (26%) to work full time.
  • While similar proportions of partnered mothers and lone mothers worked part time, lone mothers (41%) were more likely than partnered mothers (32%) to be ‘workless’. [My quotation marks].
  • Considering working patterns at the family level, the most common employment patterns for couple families were both parents in full-time employment (28%), and one partner in full-time employment and the other in part-time employment of 16 to 29 hours per week (28%).
  • A quarter of couple families (26%) consisted of one parent working full time and one non-working parent. [Wow, just look at that: 28% full time/28% full time and part-time/26% single income. Yet, the way it is set out – apart and distinct from ‘common’ – suggests that there is a significant difference; that single income families are somehow a tiny minority in comparison].
  • Employed mothers were also asked what other factors influenced their decision to work. Two in three (66%) said they needed the money, almost half (46%) said having their own money was important [this is unsurprising, considering that a mother who cares for her children becomes unwaged, and thus financially penalised for choosing carework over market work. 66% were financially compelled to go out to work – yet no attempts are being made to address ways to lessen the financial penalties against parents who want to care for their children] and one in four (24%) said that they needed to maintain pension contributions.
  • Of the non-financial reasons, enjoying work was the most frequently mentioned reason (64%), followed by a desire to get out of the house (26%), and feeling useless without a job (25%). [On this last point, it seems that the way in which society devalues what mothers do and the resulting feelings of low worth, is now used as a stick to beat us back into work outside the home].
  • Working mothers were asked for their views on different working arrangements. Over half (54%) said that if they could afford it, they would work fewer hours to spend more time looking after their children, and over a third (36%) said that if they could afford to give up work altogether, they would prefer to stay at home and look after their children [These are significant figures. Yet they did not make it to the Executive summary].
  • Almost one in four (23%) said they would increase their working hours if they could arrange good childcare.
  • Around a third (34%) of mothers were not working at the time of the survey [Yes, they were working: they were just unwaged carers].

Quite astounding, eh?

Skewed Headline. Clear Priorities

A survey about childcare and mothers. A survey to help formulate policy on childcare. And the only findings put on the billboard in the Executive Summary are those which support the ideology of maternal employment and commodified childcare despite significant findings about the wishes of many mothers to leave employment or reduce their hours if they could afford to do it.

What is revealing is that, when we do finally reach significant figures which show that mothers in employment overwhelmingly would prefer to reduce their hours and significantly would want to give up work outside the home, they are tucked in, in the hope that nobody will notice. After all, it’s well boring having to read through pages and pages of statistics and s**t. It’s the fine print – nobody reads that, do they?

We have to ask, when, oh when, are such figures going to be acknowledged by the mainstream parties?

When are the actual wishes of mothers, overwhelmingly for greater financial support to care and freedom to make choices which honour their wishes, going to be addressed? In the spirit of democracy. When are the human beings at the heart of all this going to be the priority instead of human capital at the centre of capitalist neoliberalism?

Time for us mothers to speak out and demand to be heard. The powers that be know that a significant number of women would prefer to look after their children themselves or reduce their working hours if only finances would allow. We need to demand they start to reflect our wishes.

My book, Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, will be published in September by Womancraft Publishing.



4 thoughts on “Lies, Damn Lies and Childcare

  1. Excellent as ever Vanessa. If they don’t ask the full range of questions they won’t get the full range of answers. And if they deliberately avoid asking some questions that they’d probably rather not want the answer to (example: about preference to take care of children at home and exploring why), then it makes it easier to present a skewed picture in conclusions/summary report. Plus there’s the issue of ‘childcare’ being used to define 4 year olds in Reception class (which is not how parents see childcare) and ‘childcare’ including care by ex partner (who by the way isn’t usually the ex parent, so it’s not really ‘childcare’ at all), and childcare being used to describe a ballet or football class or informal playtime with grandparents (ridiculous that this is assumed to be ‘childcare’). Also the issue of a professional in a suit arriving at your door, even if pre-planned, with a clipboard, asking questions about what might help to use more childcare and do more paid work……..well it’s clear that this isn’t really about feelings/concerns/child-focused priorities…… can be really rather daunting when the assumptions are clearly that you ‘ought’ to be doing anything other than caring for children in the family home. Thank you for this blog. It’s an important piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant exposeé, well done Vanessa! My husband and I had to have a massive ‘austerity drive’ in the run up to our first being born, to ensure we could afford for me to only go back to work part time. Six years, two more kids, and a *whole lot* of emotional stress later, I was able to take redundancy and we could afford for me to not go back to the office. Working with one fine, with two just about doable, with three it was absolutely horrendous. We’ve had to tighten the belt as it were, but I know it’s the best for us all…


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