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Opinion 'The State should pay for mothers to stay at home'

Caring in the home needs to be supported too, writes Pauline O’Reilly.

WHY IS SOCIETY not listening to children? It is not that children are not asked for their views, but that their voices are twisted to suit prevailing economic interests.

A study commissioned by Minister Zappone’s department sought the views of children in relation to childcare, which it is now obliged to do. It found that 1% wanted a crèche. Yes, 1%.

The other 99% wanted to be with family or childminders after school, with the majority asking for care by parents.

Policies for home based care

So how has the Minister for Children responded? Given that she believes that “children and young people have a right to a voice on decisions that affect their individual and collective lives,” we might expect her to develop policies that reflect this clear and strong preference for home based care.

Instead the Minister is determined that society should move towards footing the bill for the childcare costs of going out to work only. That’s the “progressive universalism” of childcare.

Let’s be clear, children in formal childcare and the parents who want to be in paid employment should be supported fully.

The reality, however, is that many parents go out to work because they feel they can’t afford to stay at home. Many parents go out to work even though they would prefer to have the option of caring for their children themselves.

Caring for children in the home is more expensive

For the majority, caring for children at home is more expensive. The reason for this is that home carers forfeit a salary in a society where we have ensured that two salaries plus state support are required for families to survive.

Additionally, the State penalises those at home through taxes (that’s right, single income families pay more tax), pension loss and loss of careers. Lone parents fare worse.The question often asked is “Why should the State pay for you to stay at home?”

But we never question why those who go out to work should have the income that they bring home and have their childcare paid for. The real question is why shouldn’t any childcare, inside or outside the home, be paid for?

Perhaps the answer is too easy. It is because there are financial benefits for corporate and political interests if we work outside the home. We are told that we need to “encourage” women to work to “activate” the workforce. This is an emphasis on short-term financial gain over social well-being.

The voices of parents in the home, and of children, are invisible in political terms. There is a false framing of paid labour as liberating, a throwback to second wave feminism, which ironically feeds the economic interests of corporations.

For the majority of us work is a means to an end

Perhaps paid work as a politician or a policy-maker is liberating, but for the majority it’s a means to an end. This is recognised in some quarters but excluded from the rhetoric of most Irish advocates, lest we seem too backward.

Yes, we must ensure that women have access to the paid labour market, but not dismiss the choice some women and men would make to be a carer for a few short years.

I am a feminist who believes that choice is what liberates and by elevating the status of caring roles we can see equal participation of men and women in the home and in other caring professions, while at the same time respond to the voice of the child.

Caring in the home needs to be supported too or we leave the choice that children would have us make at the side of the road.

Pauline O’Reilly is a spokesperson for a new organisation, Stay-At-Home Parents Association Ireland, having been both a working mother and a parent in the home herself. Prior to leaving work she was a solicitor.

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