Parents are among the worst affected by austerity policies, we need to think outside the box to make things better for them.
Being a mother can be isolating, especially under the harsh conditions Tory policies have created. We are often forced away from family and friends to find housing we can (scarcely) afford, and insecure jobs that barely cover the rent and bills.
It emerged today that even a policy that is supposed to help us – more free nursery hours – is not the positive thing it was made out to be, and could actually lead to further inequality.
Childcare is inflexible and can be difficult to access or expensive – and according to the Sutton Trust standards in free early years care are now dropping as the hours available go up, increasing the attainment gap between rich and poor children.
And what about women who would prefer to remain at home whilst their children are still young, but are too poor to do so? Choice should be key, but many women cannot stay out of work. They are forced back because they need the money, or fear that if they do not return quickly their careers will be stunted as they are left behind by their male counterparts.
When they do return to work, many women face discrimination and disputes over pay, flexible hours, and respect in the workplace.
At the same time, pressure on parents to raise their children ‘the right way’ is increasing. Mental ill health is on the rise across society. The need for support is acute – poor housing options displacing so many women from their communities is only making things worse. Often new parenthood brings old problems to the fore, issues of anxiety, abuse and neglect in their own childhoods places a great strain on new parents trying to get to grips with their new responsibilities. The way our society is organised contributes to rather than removes these problems.
What would make things better? Some things are obvious. Decent housing for all. An end to zero-hours contracts and other exploitative employment practices. Greater protection for women in the workplace and firmer commitments to flexible work arrangements that benefit families. A reduction in the working week.
Others require bravery and innovation. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) would radically improve things. Maybe the UK isn’t ready to take such a big step yet, but we could follow Finland’s recent lead in trialling it. Instead of choosing people at random to take part in a trial, we could think outside of the box and start with parents. Giving UBI in the first instance to all parents with preschool aged children would mean an end to complicated means testing for working families tax credit and other benefits, saving in administration costs.
The money spent on UBI would return to the economy, giving the country a boost. Parents could pay for more flexible childcare options. More money could be spent on nutritious food. Mothers could afford to retrain and take on jobs that fit around their families, or support themselves through setting up their own small businesses.
We also need innovative spaces for the community, particularly in the absence of Sure Start Centres that have now been closed down. Alternative outside spaces such as ‘forest schools’ and community allotment schemes are becoming more and more popular as ways of bringing people together and should supported where possible.
Housing could be more innovative too. We could roll out the excellent Welsh One Planet planning policy which enables families to build sustainable homes while supporting themselves from the land. An extension of the tiny house movement enabling people to live in small ‘houses’ (non permanent structures) on suitable land with communal facilities would allow a generation currently frozen out of even saving for a deposit to get a foot on the housing ladder. Land could be made available for community self-build projects, as well as the much needed enormous investment in well designed ecologically sound social housing this country so desperately needs.
It cannot be underestimated how much difference it would make to families up and down the country to live in decent housing they can afford.
Jennifer Forbes is a CWU supported candidate for PPC in Camborne Redruth and Hayle, & TUC tutor.
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