So my workplace sends round updates of relevant parliamentary business each day in a lunchtime email. You might not think this is particularly interesting but given the level of parliamentary coverage in the papers these days, it’s actually very useful. I read it every day.
Today’s contained a press release from the Minister for Equalities and Women, Maria Miller. She’s also the Minister for Media, Culture and Sport (presumably because these are both flighty, girly projects that don’t require full time ministerial work) and last week made the headlines because she issued a mild threat that the government would cut all Arts funding unless they proved their monetary worth. Worship at the altar of the market, people. Forget you have a soul.
Anyway, last week’s pronouncement made a splash because the arts community made sure their reaction was covered in the news. Today’s announcement is nowhere, it seems. Here it is.
The nuts and bolts of the enterprise don’t bother me much, it was the quotes that I read with interest. Let’s examine shall we?
Women are absolutely vital to maximising the UK’s economic recovery, so it’s more important than ever that we ensure we are doing all we can to get more women into work.
We all hear how difficult it is to get childcare and how it is a real barrier for some women getting back into work and we have listened. More childcare options mean more women can take up jobs, help support their families and achieve their own career goals and aspirations.
So far so good. It is a fact that more women than men stay at home to look after children, that in general they are in lower paid jobs which can cancel out childcare and not all of them like this. More childcare options make absolute sense all round for working families. And so I check the childcare options they’re talking about – essentially this is a grant scheme offering cash to help set up a nursery. They’re looking to have more nurseries available, with better trained staff. This makes sense although it doesn’t actually address the fundamental problem with childcare, which is the crippling cost of it. But that’s another blog post.
So we come to the final quote.
The childcare industry is already a major employer of women, and this scheme will mean more opportunities for female entrepreneurs to start-up and run their own businesses. This is a cash boost designed to stimulate the sector in tough times.
I’m sorry, what?
Childcare is already done mainly by women so we’re hoping more women will do it some more? Did I read that right?
It seems I did. At a time when families are paying up to 28% total income on childcare, a time when childcare workers are badly paid and worked hard, a time when nurseries are struggling because parents are pulling their children out of childcare due to the cost and /or dealing with their own redundancy, the government’s answer is to throw a bit of cash at women to employ more women because women are already doing much of the childcare?
This is the Minister for Women and Equalities, people.
I honestly don’t know where to start. Let’s begin by expressing a weary resignation that the Tory answer to this problem is to have a few women get wealthy exploiting the many and keep us all down while breeding the workforce of the future. Of course it is. Why would we expect innovative, helpful, creative, positive, evidence based policy?
And now let’s move on.
I can’t find stats for this but a friend (@dadbloguk) informs me that 98% childcare workers are women. The nursery we use is owned by a man but the staff are all women and I don’t remember seeing any male workers at the other nurseries we looked round, so that feels about right. (If anyone has stats to back this up, please let me know. Thanks.) If privately surveyed a large proportion of men will express a preference for working flexibly or part time to share the childcare burden but don’t request doing so because they are concerned that their career might get sidelined or they’re regarded as girly (source: Gaby Hinsliff’s book Half a Wife). Children do better at school and in a career if their father reads to them and plays an active part in their upbringing (source: Gaby Hinsliff again) Marriages and countries where the parents have been able to share the childcare and work flexibly are proven time and time again to be more successful and productive than inflexible arrangements. (see various newspaper articles about Scandinavia)
So remind me, why are we encouraging women to be childcare entrepreneurs again? Because we’ve always done it. Ah yes. The Minister for Equalities doesn’t appear to want men to join a profession that is female dominated despite there being many advantages all round to them doing so. In the meantime she provides us with “solutions” which completely ignore the actual problems.
What’s the main problem here? Aside from the money issue I mean. This article sums it up neatly. Other investigations on the internet offer similar solutions. It appears parents are more nervous of letting men near their children – because they don’t think it’s a “manly” profession, because they don’t think men will care enough and, yes indeed, because they think there’s a higher risk of paedophilia. A terrible set of assumptions with no evidence and no thought. This is policy by tabloid hysteria and the government, especially the Minister for Equalities, is doing nothing to combat it.
I don’t think there’s a quick answer. It’s a culture change and needs a sustained period of education and action. It needs sensible messages and reassurance, it needs a positive recruitment campaign, it needs examples of employers showing men that childcare is an option that can work, it needs time. What it doesn’t need is sweeping under the carpet.
Perhaps Maria Miller needs to consider her Ministries should be a full time job after all. This half arsed approach seems to be getting her nowhere in either post.