The Coalition should remember: women still have the vote

What do you get if you get a Cabinet of millionaires? A concerted attack on women. No wonder Chris Huhne’s ex appears to be so bitter.

I realised this when Nick Clegg was wheeled out earlier in the week to defend government proposals to abolish Child Benefit for families where one income exceeds £42,475 a year. You know a policy is in trouble when Clegg fronts it.

So muddle-headed is the plan that if each parent earns £42,000, in other words have a joint income of £84,000, the mother gets to keep the benefit. In contrast a family with a sole breadwinner bringing £43,000 into the home loses the benefit.

‘Ah diddums,’ I hear some sneer. ‘Who cares about middle class stay-at-home mothers?’  Well, I do, as this is just the latest policy from the self-proclaimed ‘Party for the Family’ to undermine the financial security of mothers, richer and poorer.

On the 6th April low income families with parents in part-time work face losing as much as £4,000 a year as the threshold for paying tax credits is raised from 16 hours a week to 24. The money is paid to the parent working part-time. As women in part-time work outnumber men by four to one, it means the burden of this cut falls upon them.

For those out of work seeking employment, the change is another reason to remain on benefits and out of work. People say Labour was confused about work and family but they ain’t got nothing on George Osborne.

Adding injury to insult, the Child Benefit proposal has a vicious sting in the tail for women who’ve taken a career break to be full-time carers. Child Benefit entitles claimants to Home Responsibilities Protection, which issues credits towards a state pension if we’re not paying National Insurance. In other words, those who get it are guaranteed a state pension when they retire. For millions of middle class stay-at-home mums with no money for a private pension, this means they could face poverty in old age if their partner dies.

But the Coalition has form on this. Women have already born the brunt of government cuts. Deep cuts have been made to services like libraries and public transport, which are used by a disproportionate number of women; funding programmes paid to new mothers like SureStart have been scrapped or scaled back; and, as women are the biggest workforce in the public sector, cuts to pensions and job losses have impacted more heavily on them.

It’s because of the deficit, someone is bound to say. Fine, so why are some paying more than others? So much for us all being in this together.

As more women slip into poverty, Osborne has shown little interest in spreading the burden more fairly. He has said nothing about means testing winter fuel allowance, which means millionaires like Paul McCartney and Peter Stringfellow get help with their bills. He is pushing hard to scrap the 50p top tax rate and is known to oppose a mansion tax that would end the anomaly by which a house worth £350,000 is in the same council tax band as a £2m mansion. No wonder Russian oligarchs love it here.

I can’t expect baronet-in-waiting Mr Osborne or his wife to understand the financial struggle faced by millions of ordinary families. This is a man whose first ‘proper’ job was Chancellor of the Exchequer and whose wife is equally well inherited. It is easy to make a decision about work when you can afford a mews full of nannies and the mrs’s day job involves writing about her great-grandmother’s racy past (her 2004 non-fiction début was The Bolter about posh gel Idina Sackville).

For most women, work is not a choice. It is what we do to help keep a roof over our head and our children fed. For those who stay at home to look after children, it is a considered decision that involves forfeit not just of extra income but the status lent by paid work. (If you doubt a job gives status, imagine answering ‘full-time mum’ when next asked your profession). There are those who think stay-at-home and part-time mothers shouldn’t moan. Why should they expect the tax payer to subsidise their decisions to spend more time with their children?

One answer is that in the long term all society benefits.

Research into children left in full-time childcare is not encouraging. In 2007 the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in America found that the more time children spent in nursery, the more likely their future primary school teachers were to report problem behaviour.

The study of over 3,400 children also found that bad behaviour was contagious. Children in classes with a disproportionate number of pupils who’d been in full-time childcare were also more likely to behave badly.

Choosing to stay at home with your children full-or part-time is not selfish indulgence. All those I know who’ve had a choice acknowledge a level of privilege. But many also talk about feeling valueless in a world that doesn’t accord their work any status. Too often their self-esteem is one of many unacknowledged sacrifices involved in choosing to raise their children rather than work full-time.

Ah but isn’t sacrifice what mothers do well? That’s certainly the message I’m taking from this Cabinet of millionaire men. They would do well to remember: women still have the vote.

© Danuta Kean 2012

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3 Responses to “The Coalition should remember: women still have the vote”

AHW says:

I’m happy to give up my CB. Well not happy, but I accept that as a household well over the threshold, we don’t ‘need’ it, and we as a country have to cut the deficit. But I do need a pension and with four children, a large mortgage and only one of us working, I can’t afford to be paying into my pension pot at the moment. Yes, I will go back to work, but with four children, I discovered that paying a nanny and commuting into London, even on a very good salary made almost no sense. So I think that the removal of HRP is a serious issue – and one that isn’t being talked about or addressed anywhere.

But rather than penalising the ‘hard working families’ of this country, if Mr Osborne taxed foreign oligarchs buying property in this country, and stopped extremely wealthy UK residents from buying property in London through offshore vehicles, he would raise literally BILLIONS for the Treasury overnight. Big multinationals should be made to pay more than token lip service to our country’s tax laws. Companies making billions but yet pay less tax in a year than a higher rate tax payer will pay in two years means that there is a disproportionate burden falling on the individual.

oddly active says:

As a single dad can I just say that these issues aren’t feminist issues but social issues. We might be a minority group – suffering the twin marginalisation that such a (parenting) role implies – but the fact that we too are equally affected by these cuts and measures (as too are those minority dads who take the main carer role while their partners go out to work)shows that the definition of ‘victim’ here is not one exclusive to women.

The fact is, we are living in a polarised society where the needs of the few take increasing precedence over the needs of the majority. Preserving that status quo, when ‘times are hard’ means more must be taken from the poor and given to the rich…

I totally disagree with the proposed method of means testing child benefits, but also totally disagree with the concept of universal benefits (including WFA). So this is not a change in legislation that should be challenged because it impacts on women, but because of the wider injustice it enables – i.e. that a couple earning eighty-four thousand pounds a year will also get a handout of just over a thousand pounds a year (single child rate) to help towards the costs of paying their minimum wage nanny. I know which mum has my sympathy…

Oppose this change because it is *wrong* – not because it impacts on some women who happen to be in the fortunate position of having one member of the household earning enough to pay higher rate tax. Ask for a ceiling that looks at the family income in relation to the the income of our societies weakest, most vulnerable, most impoverished and most disenfranchised and then considers who needs that extra £1000 per year most.

I wouldn’t want to be the government minister deciding where that ceiling should be, and wherever he puts it there will be howls of protest from those just above it and a huge scrabble to preserve it by hiding the income that goes over the line as some other sort of non-declarable ‘perk’.

Just to recap – I do totally sympathise with any family who find themselves mugged for having and living on one income just above the individual threshold. That’s ridiculous and needs to be changed. But the real injustice is the handout given to the couple on £84,000, and that’s ridiculous and needs to be changed too.

Nicola Vincent-Abnett says:

Yet another misstep from the government that NOBODY voted for!

It was a privilege to be able to stay at home and raise my own children. Sadly, I often had nothing but my children for company as every other mother that I might have spent time with was at work. My childhood was full of mothers and other children, but I often struggled to find company for myself and playmates for my kids with so many pre-school-age children locked away in daycare, while both of their parents worked to pay for it.

We need more provision for women to raise their own children in their own ways, not less.