Hard-pressed parents may swing the election

Even families who were doing quite well are struggling with higher costs and tax

Related Topics

This week, I return to Parliament from maternity leave. For six months, I have been out of the Westminster bubble. I've escaped the routine of days that start with Today and end with Paxman on Newsnight, and spent time with my daughter and with other new parents.

The conversation often turned from sleepless nights to the cost of raising a family and how to balance work and home life. While I am fortunate, with a job that pays well and a strong family and support network, for too many people this is a tough time to start a family. Wages are down an average of £1,500 a year since Cameron, Clegg and Osborne entered government. After three wasted years of a flatlining economy, we are finally seeing signs of growth. But this recovery doesn't seem to be working for many families. Because of childcare, job scarcity or rising prices, many are feeling squeezed.

One friend has just had her second child. Returning to work after her first was just about financially viable. Now, with two pre-school children and no relatives nearby to help, the cost of sending two children to nursery means that she would be out of pocket. She simply can't afford to go out to work.

Another mum, in her mid-thirties with a one-year-old, has worked since leaving school at 18. But as a single parent she struggled financially, and has had to move back in with her parents. She can't go back to her former job, managing teams of people, because she couldn't get appropriate childcare. An experienced employee, she is now looking for lower-paid, low-skilled jobs to fit around her family commitments.

These parents were excited and proud to be raising a family. But each was anxious about the future. None of them felt the Government understood their concerns.

Under the coalition, women's unemployment has increased by 120,000 and women account for three-quarters of the rise in long-term unemployment. Britain's employment rate of women with children is much lower than other countries such as Sweden and Denmark, where there is affordable, high-quality childcare. The Women's Business Council has found that 2.4 million women who want to work outside the home have no job; a further 1.3 million women want to work more hours.

Too many women are not able to make the choices that are right for them and their families. Our nation is not making the most of women who want to work, and many mums are being forced out of the workplace entirely. The Labour leadership's plans will help build an economy where everyone plays their part, including the many women who want to earn. That's why enabling affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare will be a priority for the next Labour government.

As Ed Balls has said, in government we will have to confront a tough fiscal inheritance, with families under pressure, businesses that have lost vital opportunities to invest, and public finances in poor shape. But helping mums back to work makes sense for the economy and raises revenue. If our employment rate for mothers moved up to the average of the world's top five nations, 320,000 more women would have jobs and tax receipts would rise by £1.7bn.

More than a million families with children live in privately rented houses. At a time when home ownership is falling, tenants are facing record rents in the private sector. The coalition is making the situation worse, with house building now slower than at any time since the 1920s. Ed Miliband has called for a national register of landlords to ensure the private rented sector works fairly, and we desperately need the building of new, affordable family housing, not the stoking of a housing bubble.

While families are struggling to pay the bills and the increased costs of raising their children, Osborne has given an average tax cut of £100,000 to the 13,000 people who earn over £1m. Now there are proposals for a married couples' tax allowance that would not help the single mum struggling to make ends meet, and would not make up for cuts to tax credits that have hit families on modest incomes.

As children return to school, parents are digging deep to pay for uniforms, a winter coat, new books and more. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the cost of necessities required to give a child a decent standard of living increased by 4 per cent last year. Few get a pay rise like that at the moment.

Parenthood is a wonderful adventure and privilege. But the living-standards crisis is squeezing families' incomes, forcing women out of the workplace and making it harder for many to make ends meet. Even people who felt they were doing quite well are struggling with higher costs, higher taxes and stagnant wages. It's a symptom of the coalition's failing economy that so many families are being stretched so far.

Back at work and raring to go, I will be taking on the Tories and the Lib Dems on their record when it comes to the cost of living and their failure to get the economy working for families. The 2015 general election will be a living-standards election.

Rachel Reeves is MP for Leeds West and a shadow Treasury spokesman

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine