28/10/2014 11:24 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

George Osborne Wants Mums Back To Work

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (L) welcomes Australia's Treasurer Joe Hockey outside 11 Downing Street in London on October 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Stay-at-home mums! Get on your bike and get a job. Yes, you. Stop slobbing around at home looking after your children and get out there and contribute to the UK's GDP.

George Osborne, our beloved Chancellor of the Exchequer, wants to get almost half a million more women into the workplace by the beginning of 2016.

He's come up with a clever way of achieving this. He's thinking about providing 50,000 more childcare places across the country.

Obviously, that's going to help. Because a shortage of childcare places is the only reason that women choose to stay at home with their own children. Oh wait.

He's also trying to persuade mums back to work with the 'tax-free' childcare scheme, giving families up to 20 per cent of their childcare costs, up to £2,000 for each child. Which is, to be fair, quite useful for some women who want to return to work.

Except that these tax breaks already existed for most of these women anyway through various voucher schemes, so it's not exactly a massive new incentive for most.

And don't let's pretend that this is all about 'helping wimmin'. It's not about that at all. It's about George Osborne wanting to get the female employment rate up there with the Germans.

Even if he does succeed in getting an extra half a million more women into the workplace, will they be grateful for it? Some of them, perhaps. But what about the rest? And what about all those women who this doesn't help at all?

What about women who want to stay at home and look after their own children when they are small? Where's the help for them?

What about women who want to work full time when their children go to school, but who can't afford to pay for before and after-school childcare?

What about women who want to retrain or get back into the workplace after a period of being a 'stay-at-home mum'?

What about women who want to work school-hours only so they can be there for their children when they come out of the school gate?

What about the women who have been missing out on childcare tax breaks for years because they're self-employed (no, I'm not bitter at all)?

What about the women who have to work full time along with their husbands in order to pay the mortgage, but would really rather spend a bit more time with their children?

What about women whose lives are a constant struggle to balance the demands of work and home (that's most mothers...)? Where are the attempts to make their lives a little bit easier?

The trouble is, George Osborne, and a series of mostly male politicians before and doubtless after him, completely fail to grasp the reality of women's lives.


It's not all black and white for us, you see. We don't just divide up neatly into 'stay-at-home-mums' and 'full-time-working-mums'.


We want flexible working practices, not just a 'right to request' them. We want our partners to have flexible working practices. We want to be able to connect with our children, and be a part of their lives, not just at weekends. Fathers want this too. We want our lives to be a combination of work and family that suits OUR family. We want to be able to make choices that suit OUR family.

Every mother I know arranges her life, work and family in a different way. One works full time with a small amount of flexibility. Another works full time and her husband picks the kids up from school. Another works part-time, studies part-time and looks after her children after school. Another works part-time, freelance, for herself, while managing three small children. Some of them want more flexibility. Some would rather work less, and spend more time with their children. Some want to work more but can't afford the childcare. Some want to retrain but can't afford to be without a salary for a year.

Nicky Morgan, the minister for women, says: "No woman should have to choose between her career and her family." But that's exactly what many of us have to do. We're constantly having to put one before the other. Because it's just so damned hard to combine the two. And it shouldn't be.

What we really need is for George Osborne and his mates to get their heads out of their backsides and talk to some real families. Then they might find out that every single one is different, and they might get a better idea of what families really need. Clue: it's not just extra childcare places.