I got a call from a friend yesterday evening asking whether I was as happy about your budget as she was. To be honest, I hadn't had much time to reflect on it as my toddler has taken to licking shoes and I had spent most of the day trying to stop her from getting some sort of awful illness from this rather gruesome habit. Anyway, I digress. The friend in question supposed that I must be very excited about the budget because as a thoroughly middle class, working mother of one with a husband also in gainful employment, it seemed that you had created it to work in my favour. And do you know what George? To begin with, I was indeed very happy. I'm a freelancer and it looks like I'll be paying less tax because of the new thresholds and I love the new childcare allowances. However, after the initial excitement I was left very cold by how your decisions will effect families on lower incomes who have more than two children.
If I've understood things correctly (forgive me if not) families with low incomes who currently rely on tax credits, will only be allowed them for a maximum of two children from 2017. Now I kind of get what you're trying to do. You're encouraging families who rely on welfare to think before having lots of children and to budget just as a higher earning family might have to. You're also encouraging people to get out there and find jobs with your new and improved "living wage". It all looks so good on paper.
However, as a Mum, I must say that I find aspects of this very troubling to say the least. It feels to me like you're engaging in some sort of social contraception where the poorest families are being financially forced to stop at two children whereas the rich can go forth and multiply. Imagine that you go to work every day for hours upon end but only take home a tiny wage. You've tried in vain to find a better paid job but are finding it impossible. Your wife stays at home and looks after the kids because they need looking after, you can't afford childcare and most importantly that is her choice. (Every mother (or father) should have the right to stay at home and bring up the children if she wants to). Are you telling me that because of the difficult circumstances that the family in question finds itself in, they should be denied the right to have more than two children? How is that fair?
I then compare my circumstances. Yes my husband and I both work our proverbials off in order to pay the mortgage and afford the part-time childcare that allows us to hold down our jobs and yes we will have to think very carefully about our finances before having another child, let alone two more. But do you know what? If we REALLY want a family of three, we'll make it work. We have the option of selling our house and very kind families who will help us out if we really need it. Like many middle class families, we have a safety net which gives us options. I truly believe that everyone deserves a safety net, however rich or poor.
In short George, I feel scared right now. Scared for those Mums who are desperate for another child but are now petrified to do so because of the financial implications. I'm also scared that mothers who want to stay at home and be with their kids are now going to be forced into the work place. Since becoming a Mama myself I've realised that we're all the same. We all got through the agony of childbirth, the leaking boobs and the overwhelming love that we feel for our babies. Motherhood is the biggest leveller that there is and we Mamas all deserve the right to make the decisions that are best for us and our families, whoever we are and however much or little we earn.
Thanks for listening.
Nicola Bonn (Upfront Mama)