The cost of living crisis is hitting mums in many different ways and is compounded by multiple factors, including not enough better paid flexi jobs despite some progress.
Our annual survey results are out this week and I’ve been talking to lots of mums about how they are coping in the current cost of living crisis. Many are taking on more work. That may be more clients if they freelance, other jobs or starting up a business. Often there are several overlapping factors involved. They are starting up a business, for instance, because they can work more flexibly – from home – and therefore can reduce or not have to pay for childcare costs which they can’t afford due to the cost of living crisis. Often they couldn’t even afford it before that. They are increasing their hours often because they have downgraded due to not being able to find the flexible jobs that make the whole working parent thing work and have been being paid less for years before the cost of living crisis. The crisis only makes it much harder.
Many are angry that the lack of flexibility in the workplace – still! – has placed them in a position where they are working all hours for significantly less pay than they used to get pre-children. And yet some of the newspapers and commentators who I’m willing to wager have never been in anything remotely like this position themselves instead harp on about how everyone needs to get back to the office. Many of these women left the office years ago because the office didn’t work for them. Yet all we hear from some quarters is the negatives of homeworking. Where is the balance? Where is the reality check? Maybe people only see what they want to see.
Several of the women I’ve been talking to are doing 50+ hours a week and looking after young kids. Those who have chosen a freelance or self employed route can do this because they can flex around sleep patterns, etc, but it usually means no social life and no respite.
Coming off the back of Covid, which was no walk in the park for parents, particularly mothers, one wonders just how far resilience, creativity and workarounds can stretch.
But at least many of those mums are still able to cover the basics like eating. For others things are much more dire. I spoke to one mum who has had to contend with a premature baby who is in and out of hospital due to underdeveloped lungs and reflux. She had a brief spell of homelessness and is now working from home full time – seven hours a day – with her baby present because she absolutely cannot afford childcare. She is skipping meals, terrified that the rent will go up and she will be homeless again, not able to claim any benefits due to being defined as having no recourse to public funds and broke down only at the point where she described her worries that her toddler is not meeting his developmental goals because she can’t engage with him due to working full time. She blamed herself.
Yet she was clearly exhausted in every possible way, having not had any time to recover from the birth, and trying heroically to cope on her own in the face of a system that has not only shut her out, but seems to be tightening the locks at every turn.
You can judge a society by the way it treats its young and that begins with their carers. Children cannot develop and thrive if their main carers are falling apart. You can only wonder what kind of long-lasting problems we are storing up for the future through our lack of adequate support for parents today.