I know the childcare scheme has been discussed a lot recently but I am so fed up with the misrepresentation of stay at home parents that I thought I’d document my views here. As you probably know it is proposed that families with working parents will be offered taxpayer-funded help with child care, worth up to £1,200 a child and available for parents (single or married) who earn up to £150,000 each. However, if one parent works and the other doesn’t (ie they stay at home) they will not be eligible for the scheme. Not surprisingly this has courted a lot of controversy particularly from stay at home parents such as myself who argue that the plan devalues those who stay at home.
Unfortunately our arguments are being shoddily reported as demanding remuneration for what we do in the home. Opponents argue that the childcare scheme is designed to give practical help to working parents and thus because I am at home I do not require help. What is there to argue, they say? There is a lot to argue, I reply.
For a start, I am not demanding childcare vouchers for the work I do at home but I do ask that stay at home parents be treated with the same level as respect as those who work outside the home. Currently this is not happening. There is no recognition for the stay at home parent in the taxation system. Parents are treated as individuals rather than a family unit and so if a parent gives up work to care for their children they loose their tax allowance. Add to this the changes to the benefits system and some families loosing some or all of their child benefit we have a system that is very weighted against the stay at home parent. The message is loud and clear: stay at home parents don’t matter.
Of course you may argue that if parents like me can afford to stay at home then we have no need of state support. You may share Mr Osborne’s view that it is a lifestyle choice that I am making but staying at home is not always the lifestyle that many imagine it to be. It is not always a case of being married to a wealthy man and looking after our little cherubs in between trips to the gym and lunches with the girls. Being a stay at home mum is not necessarily the preserve of the middle classes either and neither is it the preserve of women. Men stay at home and look after their children too. To suggest otherwise is a somewhat narrow view of the stay at home parent.
Some of us are forced to give up jobs and careers to care for our children not necessarily because we want to but because we have to. Our children’s needs can be so great and the lack of services so inadequate that there is no option but to stay at home and care for them ourselves. This isn’t easy. Whilst part of me would like to go out to work, part of me is also obligated to my children and I simply cannot leave them in a childcare or even an educational setting that offers little support for them.
Even if I was to find good childcare there is no surety that my children will even get out of the house to access that care due to the high levels of anxiety they experience as part of their disability. I have to be there for my children, for the times when they are unable to leave the house or go to school and when they need the comfort of home and a nurturing parent by their side. Consistent loving support is important; something that can’t always be assured when you place your child in external childcare or even in a school that is insensitive to the needs of an autistic pupil. Sometimes home is best.
But I detract. The point I’m trying to make is that the idea that stay at home mothers (and fathers) have chosen a lifestyle is simplistic nonsense. It is wrong to suggest that I, and others like me, have chosen the lifestyle we have. Our lives are governed by circumstance. They are complicated, made worse by lack of support, poor services and inflexible employers who cannot (or who refuse) to accommodate our caring responsibilities.
It also conveniently forgets that the work of the stay at home parent is not without cost. Just as in a nursery or a childminder’s home, caring for our own children also requires resources: heat, food and things to occupy them as well as a parent’s time and energy to nurse and nurture our children. For some of us, that care even extends to educating our children, not necessarily out of choice, but because our education system is so poor that there is simply not enough provision for our #SEN children.
From this perspective it is quite logical to argue that stay at home parents should also have recognition for the work they do. But unlike those who go out to work and demand help with childcare costs the support for stay at home parents could be delivered through the taxation system. Alternatively, we could scrap the subsidised childcare plan altogether and adopt a taxation system or benefit that empowers all parents to make their own decisions about what is right for their children. It is quite incredible to me that in the twenty first century we have a government that is intent on telling us how to bring up our children.
Whatever we do it, we need a system that is responsive to the diversity of family life rather than one that favouritises one type of parent over another. As it is, stay at home parents like me are becoming increasingly marginalised under this current government and subjected to all sorts of crass comments that suggest we have no worth in our society. As I have illustrated, our contributions to society are immensely valuable and should attract the same level of respect as those who go out to work.