Childcare should be an issue for everyone

A poll last week on summer childcare attracted criticism that it was directed wholly at working mums. Surely dads also have a role to play?

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Last week, the TUC and Mother Pukka published the results of a survey about summer childcare. It showed large numbers of mums did not have adequate childcare cover for the summer, rising to 76% of single mums. It’s a massive issue as the summer holidays start this week. Many have used up all their annual leave on earlier lockdowns. Many can’t afford unpaid parental leave and now that the rules on working from home have been lifted, many can’t rely on that if their employers want them back in the office, although logic tells you it is in employers’ interest not to force people back, given how hard hit they are likely to be by constant – and, likely, rising – pinging from the NHS app, at least until mid-August. Working from home seems to make business sense over the next uncertain months.

Yet on Twitter concerns about the issue have been, to some extent, overshadowed by annoyance that the survey was totally about working mums rather than parents. Why frame it as a mum issue, people asked? Childcare is something that all parents should have a vested interest in. Nothing will change if it is seen as a woman’s issue, they argue.

I agree  – but more than a parent issue, childcare is a societal issue. For too long it has been seen as only something women need to worry about when it is essential if parents are to work and, given most people will become parents at some point, it is crucial for the economy generally.

Yet the UK sees childcare as a private issue, which only individual parents should worry about. It’s a lifestyle choice, if you will, to have children, not an essential part of human society.

Reality vs changing the narrative

The debate about childcare being a women’s issue has raged on for years. Some argue that the reality is women’s jobs are more affected by childcare issues. They will be the ones reducing their hours, changing the way they work and so forth as a result of having children. If there is no childcare over the summer, women’s jobs will suffer more. We know the stats over Covid.  Yes, men did more, but women did even more than the more that men did – and they were already doing more beforehand – often on top of an expanding workload. I certainly did. Doesn’t the survey just reflect what is likely to happen?

And yet how will it ever change – how can it be more equal – if we keep painting it as a women’s issue? The problem with the TUC/Mother Pukka survey is that you can’t write it up any other way than being about mums because that is who they polled and, of course, 90% of single parent families – who will be hardest hit by the summer childcare problems – are women. But by so doing are you perpetuating the problem despite it being a large survey about a vital issue for parents?

It’s up to all of us to think more about how we frame these issues while keeping a weather eye on what is actually happening and who is more affected, rather than what we’d like to be the case. It’s important to have spaces where mums and dads can talk together about these things, but also where they have their own spaces because both are affected by gendered assumptions in different ways. It’s vital that dads’ spaces embrace conversations about childcare and that news about childcare is not only on mum-related sites or in women’s pages. And when childcare gets to the business pages perhaps we will have made progress.



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