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Why governments encourage mothers to work

Recent governments in the West seem to have become champions of working mothers. Quoting affordable childcare as the main obstacle for mothers looking to return to the workforce, they are encouraging companies to provide daycare facilities on-site and childcare providers to lower their costs. That’s great, right? We’ve got so much government support. They want to help us, right? Do you really think so? I would love to give you a bit more background on why governments seem to champion feminist ideas of financial independence for women, and this might even help you decide if and how you want to return to work after having children.

Let’s play a game to start with. Imagine Mummy A had Baby A. Mummy was a teacher before having a baby. Then there’s Mummy B. Mummy B used to be a nanny and is now on maternity leave taking care of Baby B. In one scenario, Mummy A quits her job and dedicates her day taking care of Baby A and teaching her. Baby A is happy and Mummy A is happy, although she misses her salary and the recognition that came with her teaching job. The taxman is not happy because Mummy A is not paying income taxes or social security contributions anymore. To make matters worse for the taxman, Mummy B also decides to stay home, asking why should she pay someone else to take care of her child, just to go off to work and look after someone else’s child as a nanny? So have we two stay-at-home mums looking after the children, with no income, and the state who has just lost two taxpayers.

What happens when Mummy A and Mummy B are encouraged to return to work? One idea would be for Mummy A to become a nursery teacher and take care of Baby B. She will earn a salary now, pay taxes and social security contributions again, and create a job, because someone needs to take care of her baby, Baby A. Who is going to take care of Baby A? Mummy B! Mummy B settles her baby into daycare nursery, pays considerable nursery fees for the service, and accepts a job as a nanny looking after Baby A. Even though she pays income tax, her net salary is still higher than what she pays the daycare nursery, because Mummy A is looking after five children at the same time, which is very efficient economically. So what do we have now? Two “working mothers”, fulfilled, building a career, and a happy government, because both mothers are paying taxes now. If you asked the baby A and baby B, they might not like this arrangement, but in pure economic terms, GDP goes up, employment goes up and tax revenue goes up. So that’s why most governments are supporting feminist ideals. They don’t care if your child is happy or you are happy, they want their employment statistics to look good and oversee a bigger budget.

For educated women in highly paid jobs, it often works the way described above because their net salary does tend to be considerably higher than their childcare cost. But because, as we see, a share of 20-50% of your salary is diverted to the state in the form of taxes and social security contributions, unless you earn multiples of what a nanny or a nursery worker earns, at some point it doesn’t pay to go to work. For example, I did eyebrow threading recently and I asked the lady threading my eyebrows who was 7 months pregnant how long she was going to take off from work. She had already decided she was definitely not going back to work until her child went to school. She asked me what my daughter’s nursery cost. I did not want to tell her the monthly cost, because it would sound too shocking, so I just said it came to about £10 per hour (the equivalent of about $15). There are many jobs that pay less than that, so even in economic terms, it doesn’t make sense for people in low paid jobs to go back to work.

Of course, my daughter goes to a very nice nursery with a garden and plenty of staff, where each staff member looks after as few as three or four children at a time. Of course, we can bring down the nursery cost to £5 or even £3 per hour if we

  • increase the number of children each staff member looks after from 4 to 8 or 10 or 15
  • decrease the space the children share, although this might mean they fall ill more often
  • decrease the quality of food, no organic food, no fresh food

Does this sound appealing to you? Is this a good outcome? I am just trying to make it graphic because when a politician talks about bringing down childcare costs to help working parents, it sounds great, but you as a parent need to be aware of how childcare costs can be bought down, and it usually involves lowering the quality of childcare. Maybe as a society it should not be a priority to bring childcare costs down but to recognise the importance of our children’s well-being and development to the extent that we know it is worth gold. Why should we aim to build a society where all the mothers are back in work, paying taxes, while their children are warehoused in childcare centres that are designed to be as cheap as possible? What is the long term benefit of that to anyone? Maybe we should start seeing the value of high quality childcare or mothers dedicated their time to their own children for at least a few years to the benefit of society? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for mothers having the option to work and be financially independent if they want to, but let’s not glorify the idea of all mothers returning to work as soon as possible to the detriment of our children. Life is short.

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