Mark Steel: Why not sub-contract the childminding to Branson?

Most workplaces act as if having kids is a peculiar hobby. You might as well say you've got to get back to feed your octopus
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The Independent Online

Maybe it's part of the constitution, that once a year the Government has to announce a new way to make single parents all go to work. But anyone connected to normal life knows why so many parents find it easier to not work. Because every morning outside most schools the working parents are involved in negotiations such as: "So, if you pick up Jenny and keep her until half past four, Tina will pick up her and Oscar and give them and Nathan some pizza at the same time as taking her aerobics class, then my mum ought to be able to have them from six because the hospital says she should be out of her coma by then, and she'll drop them off with Eileen at the brothel as she gets an hour off between seven and eight, then David should have finished at the site and can bring them all back in his wheelbarrow."

Even after you've dropped them off in the morning, you dread getting a call from the school that goes: "You'll have to come and collect your son as he's been sick in the corridor." And they take no account of the fact you might be working. You could say: "But I'm flying a Boeing 757 full of passengers to Manila" and they'd say, "Well, you'll have to make an emergency landing, we can't have him spreading germs."

What are you supposed to do with them? Most workplaces act as if having kids is a peculiar hobby. If you say, "I've got to leave at five to pick the kids up", you might as well say you've got to get back to feed your octopus, or "I have to get home by six because that's when I have my wank."

Even in a huge workplace employing thousands, the idea of a creche is something from a parallel universe. They'd be more likely to install a heliport or a ski slope. Or convert the canteen into an artificial jungle because they'd read a business handbook that said: "Research shows a tropical climate enhances employee loyalty with a 3 per cent boost in productivity, rising to 5 per cent with the introduction of parakeets and large primates."

Sometimes this panic about childcare makes you feel terrible. You hear your child suddenly scream in agony and your first thought is, "Oh my god, I hope they haven't broken their leg, as I've no idea what I'd do with them all day."

And now there's added pressure as you're expected to play a role in elaborate piles of homework. Even if your child is at junior school they'll come home with a note saying: "Please be aware that next Monday is the start of Sanskrit Week. As all our pupils will be required to make a presentation during assembly in Sanskrit, please ensure your child has a working knowledge of this language, and two choices of South Asian costume for each day."

This is all made worse by the frustrating English notion that kids are basically a nuisance. For example, try going into a pub with your kids and the landlord will dive across to snarl "GET THEM OUT" as if you walked in with a flock of sneezing turkeys. Worst of all are those Wetherspoons pubs, where the policy seems to be that children are barred because they might ruin the atmosphere by giggling, which would spoil the carefully cultivated ambience of wretched misery.

You become so used to this that when you go abroad and take your kids into a bar, if the manager approaches, you cower like a dog that's been beaten by its previous owner. But then they pick your kids up, show them round the kitchen, take them upstairs to play with the 40 other kids in their family and arrange for them to have a kickabout with Inter Milan.

Then we wonder why we come bottom of the international kiddie happiness table. But the solution will be to boost the number of childminders by bringing in private contractors. Kids will be placed in a huge orange and white warehouse between PC World and Comet, called Easycare. Anything built by Lego will have to be handed over to Balfour Beatty as part of a Private Finance Initiative, and train sets will be provided by Branson (you can finish this one yourself)...

And somehow these parents must be forced into work, because we can't continue to fund people who are draining the resources of the state, etc. But it's not easy to see where these jobs might be. For example, one job traditionally suitable for mothers was working in local banks, but these have mostly shut down.

Luckily, all this shedding of staff has helped banks become more profitable than ever, so HSBC has been able to award three of their top executives a pay deal worth £18 million, which would pay the benefits of 5,000 single parents for a year. So presumably there will now be a Government think-tank into how we can stop the burden of ever-increasing handouts to bank executives.

Instead, the Government will decide they can't possibly win over the sort of people who hate the unemployed or single parents, unless they attack the unemployed or single parents. So as well as the single-parent initiative, they've announced the unemployed will lose their benefits unless they shave and get smart. So that's what causes unemployment - scruffiness. You see, there were three million on the dole in the 1930s because everyone wore donkey jackets and no shoes.

How were they ever going to find work dressed like that? Then in the Forties people wore smart uniforms so unemployment disappeared, but it came back in the Seventies as a result of long hair and flared trousers.

Just a couple more initiatives like that, such as a law making it compulsory for asylum seekers to spend all day lying in a puddle, or cutting off incapacity benefit for anyone who refuses to retrain as a cannibal, and they'll assume the next election is in the bag.