Thursday, 11 September 2014

offered more childcare: white old men in politics and the things women want

It seems to me that whenever there is a political decision to make, politicians start talking about more free childcare.

Apparently, this is to get the 'woman's vote'. Well, I'm a woman, and free childcare does not float my boat.

I'm not saying it isn't a good thing for lots of women having to work to keep (overpriced) food on the table.  For them cheaper childcare would be good in the short term.

But I think that the endless push for more free childcare is bad for two reasons:

  1. It undermines the value of childcare by families, which in turn undermines the value of childcare altogether, and keeps wages in that sector low.
  2. It ignores the benefits of caring for our children ourselves, not just in the short term, with the long lasting benefits of breastfeeding babies past the first few months, but also in the long term. All studies show that children do best when they are looked after by people who love them.
Money is important, of course it is. We need to keep ourselves fed, housed, and watered. But working as a waged employee is not the only way to earn money. And there is also nothing wrong with working as a team to look after your family, and earn money.

Childcare is considered a womens issue because it is mainly women who do paid work around childcare, or who work unpaid, caring for their children, grandchildren, and other family members. 

Some people argue that women are more caring, and so naturally fulfill these roles, but the advances of men into the domestic sphere in recent years (it is not unusual to see a Dad at a toddler group any more, although he might be the only one), have suggested that that is wrong

I think that most families make decisions about childcare based on practicality. For us, like many other people, my husband could earn more than me, and was willing to put in more hours away from the children. His career has taken off while I have been caring for our children, which is great, but means I'm unlikely to catch up, especially considering that employers don't think a lot of the experience I've gained in this time (in negotiation, overcoming obstacles, tenacity, juggling projects, time management, etc).

There are issues here about the long hours culture we have at the moment, wherein people are expected to show their willingness to work long hours, when actually, it would be better for everybody if people were rested. If an employer needs a job done for 50 hours a week, then they need 2 members of staff (at least one of whom could have flexible hours), not one frazzled one. There are also issues around the fact that men tend to get paid more than women. Men's work valued more. Address these and childcare may become a moot point.

The fact is that even with lots of childcare, there needs to be an adult in the family who can look after the children when they are sick, when others need to work at tricky times, and in the holidays. Childcare is rarely sufficient to meet these needs, and even if we reduce the long hours culture there will be people who need to work awkward hours.

Of course, there are other reasons to be annoyed at the offers of childcare; lots of people don't have children, so are not interested at all (saving the fact that they'd like to live in a world with nice people in it, presumably). But the main thing is that this is what is trotted out as a womens issue! Every time! This isn't a womens issue. This is just an issue. Women's low wages, and the low opinion of women's work in and out of the home are issues, as is the long hours culture, and the inflexibility of employment, so it seems a boss is doing someone a big favour to let them attend their child's assembly. Violence and social control of women are issues, especially in Scotland, where the Government ran a campaign warning women that drinking too much could lead to their getting raped just a few years ago.

The Better Together campaign may be getting a lot of flack for their awful advert, featuring the woman who was too busy ironing to think about the referendum, but both sides are run by white old men, and both sides are patronising to women.

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