14/09/2017 09:06 BST | Updated 14/09/2017 09:11 BST

Celebrating The Demise Of The Stay-At-Home Dad? Don't. It's Way Too Soon For That

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The Office of National Statistics has just published new data about the state of the UK. Lo and behold, this has led to excitable headlines about a fall in the number of stay at home dads in Britain.

This is based on the fact that, over the last quarter, the number of men staying at home and not working has fallen from 261,000 to 232,000. This goes against a general upward swing over the past 24 years and is the lowest figure since 2014.

So far, the headlines seem correct, yes? It could leave you with the idea that feminism is in retreat and men are only too happy to stick two fingers up to their kids and partners and happily head off to work every day leaving the mucky stuff to the women.

Let me just stop you there and say no, no and thrice, no. This is a subject I have written about in detail and I will confidently tell you that we simply do not know whether the number of stay at home dads is in decline or not.

This is where things get slightly geeky, so lean towards your monitor / wireless device and pay attention. Here are two uncomfortable truths:

1) There is not a Government agency in the UK that collects data about stay at home parents. We simply do not know how many stay at home dads are in existence. What you may find more surprising is that we also do not know how many stay at home mums exist.

2) There is no official definition of a stay at home parent.

When I first heard about that second point, I was slightly shocked. Think about it though, how do you define a stay at home parent? It is very, very difficult. Can you be a stay at home step-parent? What if you are divorced and the children only live with you part time etc.? it would be a quagmire.

By this stage you are probably completely confused and wondering what exactly these ONS figures refer to. Well my friends, they refer to the number of men who are "economically inactive because they are looking after family and / or home".

If you are a dad (...or a mum) and have a sideline decorating cakes or work for a few hours in a charity shop on a Saturday, you will not appear in these figures. Although I've been my kids' main carer since 2011, I have never appeared in these stats because I have always had a sideline as a freelance writer and blogger.

The individuals appearing in these figures could also be looking after disabled relatives. They could be in the enviable position of simply not having to work because they are loaded and don't have to.

I'll tell you why I think these figures have fallen. Firstly, the economic conditions are such that more people have to work to pay the bills. You will struggle to find a mum or dad who is truly economically inactive. I also think benefits cuts, particularly disability benefits cuts, are forcing more people into the workforce.

Finally, are we perhaps seeing more men working in the gig economy? It is, for all intents and purposes, what I do. It's what many mums do. I'll go as far to say I think mums pioneered the gig economy. You can work and fit it around family life.

Maybe, just maybe, more men are doing the same and combining gig work with a caring role. This, I think, would be something worth celebrating.

It is, by the way, also worth noting the number of economically inactive women has dropped over the last quarter. In fact, it's at one of its lowest points ever.

Those with outdated views would happily mark the demine of the stay at home dad. Truth is, he's more likely to be doing a bit of work on the side to pay for school uniform or after school clubs. He hasn't disappeared, just found ways to make money at the same time.