28/03/2016 12:43 BST | Updated 26/03/2017 06:12 BST

Lies, Damn Lies, and Childcare

I have a little something for you. I think you might agree that it is quite revealing.

A survey has found that a significant number of mothers want to care for their children themselves; yet the headline message of the survey fails even to mention it - emphasising, instead, childcare and maternal employment. It does rather reinforce, in case we were in any doubt, the message that a mother's place is in a job.

The Figures

Here's the figures, based on a survey of almost 6,200 parents:

  • A third of the mothers in employment (66% of mothers of children under 15) would prefer to stay at home and look after their children if they could afford it.
  • Over half (54%) said that if they could afford it, they would work fewer hours to spend more time looking after their children.
  • Of the 34% who are not in employment, around a half (47%) do not wish to gain employment.

That is quite staggering, is it not?

If you combine those figures of a third of 66% and half of the remaining 34% and you get: 38% of all mothers asked.

Headline figure: 38% of mothers would prefer to stay home and look after their children if they could afford it.

If you then factor in the 54% of employed women who said they would work fewer hours and you have a large proportion of an entire generation of women who are desperately calling out for a solution to their financial worries which does not compel them away from their families or into long and longer hours away from their children.

These should be headline figures in a study which finds them, surely?

Er, no.

Welcome to Plan "Get More Mothers Into Work and Manipulate Data About Demand for Childcare".

The Survey

I give you The Department for Education's Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2014 to 2015, published earlier in March 2016.

It tells us everything we need to know about the agenda and priorities of our governments when it comes to mothers and children: childcare and employment. Not social justice, wealth distribution, basic incomes or valuing care. Rather, it's about the bottom line and an increasing drive towards 'full female employment'. Despite the wishes of a great many mothers, it turns out.

Take a look at the language used, too, for it betrays a wholesale devaluation of carework when performed by a parent: 'workless' or 'not working', the clear implication being that unwaged care is not work.

Well, let's say, loud and clear: "Hey: we work, we just don't get paid, we face tax penalties as a family and are denied subsidies for the carework we do. There is a massive difference".

Unlike The Family Test - advice for government departments - this study actually names mothers and focuses on women's decision to 'go back to work'. The reason for the sudden departure from genderless language of parents and parenting? To push the ideology that all women need to get 'back to work' and, more, that most women want to. It just goes to show: gender neutral language goes out the window when the agenda is 'set sights on mum and get her down the jobcentre'.

Executive Summary vs Fine Print

Most people read and assume a summary will cover the salient points. Wrong. In this study, the 'Executive Summary' is a bastardised, photoshopped version of the actual findings of the study, calculated to mislead and intended to support an ideology of increased maternal employment and investment in childcare by anyone but mother.

No mention of the statistics about wanting to care for our own children if we could afford it.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks, on page 26?

A bit more, actually.

When we do finally reach the significant figures which show that mothers in employment overwhelmingly would prefer to reduce their hours and significantly would want to give up work outside the home, they are tucked in, in the hope that nobody will notice. After all, it's well boring having to read through pages and pages of statistics and s**t. It's the fine print - nobody reads that, do they?

  • A quarter of couple families (26%) consisted of one parent working full time and one non-working parent. [Wow, just look at that: 28% full time/28% full time and part-time/26% single income. Yet, the way it is set out - apart and distinct from 'common' - suggests that there is a significant difference; that single income families are somehow a tiny minority in comparison].
  • Employed mothers were also asked what other factors influenced their decision to work. Two in three (66%) said they needed the money, almost half (46%) said having their own money was important [this is unsurprising, considering that a mother who cares for her children becomes unwaged, and thus financially penalised for choosing carework over market work].
  • Working mothers were asked for their views on different working arrangements. Over half (54%) said that if they could afford it, they would work fewer hours to spend more time looking after their children, and over a third (36%) said that if they could afford to give up work altogether, they would prefer to stay at home and look after their children.

Quite astounding, eh?

Support Family Care

A survey about childcare and mothers. A survey to help formulate policy on childcare. And the only findings put on the billboard in the Executive Summary are those which support the ideology of maternal employment and commodified childcare despite significant findings about the wishes of many mothers to leave employment or reduce their hours if they could afford to do it.

We have to ask, when, oh when, are such figures going to be acknowledged by the mainstream parties?

When are the actual wishes of mothers, overwhelmingly for greater financial support to care and freedom to make choices which honour their wishes, going to be addressed? In the spirit of democracy. When are the human beings at the heart of all this going to be the priority instead of human capital at the centre of capitalist neoliberalism?

Time for us mothers to speak out and demand to be heard. The powers that be know that a significant number of women would prefer to look after their children themselves or reduce their working hours if only finances would allow. We need to demand they start to reflect our wishes.

My book, Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, will be published in September by Womancraft Publishing.