Did you catch the incredible House of Commons debate on Tuesday, on "Family friendliness of the Houses of Parliament"? It was brought by Jess Phillips MP and produced some interesting reactions and great sound bites on twitter.
The reality is that parenting responsibilities and commitments extend way beyond breastfeeding.
Most of the debate centred on planning, timetabling and scheduling issues, as well as the lack of nursery places and provision for children - for both Parliamentary staff and Parliamentarians. This is the same old "chestnut" that many employers face.
Only 191 MPs out of 650 are women. So mothers in particular are under-represented, but fathers too. In 2012 Prof Sarah Childs and Dr. Rosie Campbell undertook a survey of MPs. They found a startling set of facts about mothers and fathers in Parliament:
• 45% of women MPs have no children, compared to 28% of male MPs, and compared to an average of about 20% of the population who remain childless
• Of all MPs with children, male MPs have on average 1.9 children, whilst women MPs have on average only 1.2
• The average age of women MPs' eldest child, when they first entered parliament, was 16 years old; the average age of men MPs' eldest child when they first entered parliament was 12 years old
In sum: women MPs are (1) less likely to have children than male MPs; (2) more likely to have fewer children than male MPs; and (3) enter parliament when their children are older than the children of male MPs.
These staggering differences are clear evidence that there are serious barriers to Parliament for those with caring responsibilities, most often mothers."
Jess Phillips is right in asking Parliament to debate and address the realities of making Parliament family friendly. She says,
"The wider effects of Parliament not being family friendly are hugely troubling, it puts off the best people from applying and we want the best people shaping the laws...that's what's best for the country."
Meeting parenting responsibilities should not undermine the representation of parents in Parliament. Nor should it be a barrier to the whole of society benefiting from the widest possible range of skills and talent.
Parliament should be spear-heading a shift to more family-friendly workplaces, not lagging behind.
It is a standard "Human Resources" conundrum and like most organisations Parliament, the Parties and their selection committees, need to consider not only the internal workings of Westminster but also their recruitment, retention and returnership programmes.
The average age in the House of Commons is around 51. This is a time of life when parenting and family commitments typically change and is a point at which mothers and fathers might be more able and inclined to participate. Politics can be a second career. Over the age of 51 parents have even more knowledge of family life and parenting, from toddlers to teens!
Wonderful Ruby Wax showing support for #5050Parliament while signing her book
"Sane New World"
If we are to build a "Sane New World" it is crucial that those who forge the future of our society have a real understanding of family life and pressures. We need more parents and particularly mothers in Parliament. The Mother of Parliaments needs modernising; like many organisations, it needs to become more family friendly.
High Five to Jess Phillips MP who said at the very end of the session:
"This place is not representative at the moment, that is simply a fact...I want to see 50:50 representation...of women and men."
Westminster lacks women of all ages, they account for fewer than 3 out of 10 MPs. There are around 400 more men than women in the House of Lords.
50:50 Parliament is an inclusive, cross-party movement of over 40,000 people across the UK who are asking all Party Leaders for solutions to get better gender balance at Westminster. If you want more women in Parliament then say so and sign change.org/5050Parliament.
- Family Friendliness Discussion brought by Jess Phillips MP: Westminster TV
- Prof Sarah Childs and Dr. Rosie Campbell: Parents in Parliament