Divide and Conquer. The tactic of many an oppressor throughout history, and more recently employed by the media and George Osborne, two of the 21st century’s greatest oppressors (arguably – but that’s another column…) Anyway, if you swallow that assumption for the sake of argument, we’ll get to the point quicker. In the last week, three things have been swirling round my head and finally crystallized like a freshly stirred, then settled, G&T:
1. Red magazine have published the results of their ‘Generation Juggle’ survey, which found that 40% of female non-parents (all 5,000 surveyed were women) believe they work harder and longer than their mum counterparts.
DISCLOSURE: In order to be all proper, I need to mention here I’m a staff writer at Red. Although this might seem like a shameless plug of my own mag, it’s not. I would be writing this anyway. That’s why I work there; I’m interested in the mag and what it has to say.
2. Last week George Osborne announced £1,200 worth of tax-funded childcare support to families in which parents work full time. This is applicable to anyone earning under £150,000, meaning that couples earning just under £300,000 could benefit.
DISCLOSURE: I’m the child of a single parent family. Quite frankly I’m pleased working parents are getting a helping hand, my mum never did. However, I’m also a Libran, and fair’s fair. I respect the choices and the circumstances of others.
3. I recently heard Lucy Mangan present a program on BBC Radio 4 about working from home.
DISCLOSURE: I was listening to this working from home. Probably like everyone else who was listening.
Now, there is no fancy equation to how point 1+ 2+ 3 = column, it’s really quite simple. Red’s survey did not try to throw up those results. We asked over 5,000 women to talk quite generally about the fact that is nigh on impossible to have a career, a life, a family, a yoga lesson and follow the TV series that everyone is talking about, all at once. And everyone agreed – it is impossible. What we weren’t expecting was the feeling of resentment from non-mums for picking up slack from the mums who have rushed home to be with their family. Our editor’s take was, ‘Well, if that’s what they’re saying, let’s talk about it’ (“Stop the Mummy Wars”) So that’s what she did.
When George Osborne announced a tax voucher that could benefit families earning £300,000, nobody was that surprised. However, his throwaway comment that staying at home to be a full time mum is ‘a lifestyle choice’ got a bit more attention. Why? Because the Coalition favours the workers, and God help you if you want to raise your children full time, or if working makes no financial sense because childcare is so expensive. And no, Osborne, these childcare vouchers are not enough.
So what’s this got to do with a freelance journalist ‘showing’ us her home study on the radio? This: Parents need help with childcare costs. Not just ‘mums’. A home-working business man explained on the program that he could do the school run and speak to clients. And flexible working hours – i.e. being able to attend sports day or finish the novel you’ve been scribbling away on – should be a right for all.
So this is not mums vs non-mums, or stay at home mums vs working mums, thank you very much. These conversations are being twisted into a women’s issue, when it is not. This discussion should not be reduced to make different women feel guilty, or threatened, or undermined. This should be a conversation about the responsibility the government and workplaces have to accommodate their workers or non-workers lifestyle needs; supporting flexible hours for all and offering financial support those who need it. And no, that’s not you George.