Ann was half-watching the BBC evening news recently while working on the Telegraph crossword. Suddenly one of our church mums appeared on the screen. Ann sat up. Then a text beeped in from a daughter-in-law: ‘Was that Jo I just saw on the news?’
The item concerned the government’s new scheme giving families up to £1,200 a year to help with child care, but only for working single parents or where both parents are at work. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had also revealed that traditional families where one partner stays at home to look after the children pay proportionately more tax than other people.
How had Jo turned up on the BBC news? Having read about the government’s child care proposal, her husband Steve had sent a comment to the BBC website to the effect that surely a child’s own parents make the best carers for their children. The BBC phoned him. Could they talk to his wife? Hence the cameras arrived.
The crew took shots of Jo with her youngest child, the reporter then asked her many questions. The interview went on for about seven or eight minutes. Jo said a lot about why she had decided it was best not to be in work but to be at home for the children. But it was obvious that the reporter was not really interested. They were fishing for something. ‘I had the feeling that there was an agenda that had been planned at the BBC in London before they ever came down to see me’, said Jo later. And, lo and behold, the short clip which appeared on the TV news was an edited half of a sentence which gave the incorrect impression that Jo’s issue was that the government was not helping her financially. There was nothing about why parents might make the best child carers.
Best for children?
The matter of child care is a difficult area. Because of the way the economics of family life is in broke-bank Britain these days, many mothers have to go to work even though they would rather not. Let’s not rush to judge each other.
However, we need to take Steve and Jo’s point. Though the government likes to give the impression that child care is fine, some experts think otherwise. In his book Affluenza1, the clinical child psychologist Oliver James has written: ‘The most reliable review (of the evidence) concluded that 41% of babies or toddlers cared for by someone other than their mother (or father) for more than 20 hours a week are insecure, whereas this is true of 26% of children cared for exclusively by mothers. Further evidence has consistently revealed higher levels of aggression and hyper-activity in day-cared children, still evident at the age of seven’. When the sister of Moses was asked by Pharaoh’s daughter to find a nurse for the baby she thought it best to run straight to mum to do the job (Exodus 2.8).
The bottom line is that our government is simply playing financial percentages. The Chancellor knows he gets nothing for the Treasury from stay-at-home mums, and that he is likely to get far more than £1,200 annually from what a working mother plus her working child carer will pay in taxes.
Meanwhile, from her brief 30 seconds of fame, Jo has had lots of opportunities as people have wanted to chat to her. But she has banned Steve from the BBC website!
1. Affluenza by Oliver James, Vermillion, 2007.