You won't get rid of gender inequality by increasing paternity leave – that's why I've set up mums4corbyn

We should be asking the question of whether handing state subsidies to for-profit, privately-run nurseries, some of which are registered on the stock exchange, and whose predominantly female workers are woefully low-paid, is the best way to structure our childcare system

Nadine Houghton
Wednesday 16 August 2017 11:26 BST
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Jeremy Corbyn reads with children as he visits Brentry Children Centre in Bristol
Jeremy Corbyn reads with children as he visits Brentry Children Centre in Bristol (Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Image)

The “motherhood penalty” in Britain is well known – it sees women who have had children by the age of 33 earning 15 per cent less than their peers who remained childless. Maternity discrimination sees 54,000 women a year unfairly lose their job for getting pregnant. And although we keep trying to put in solutions to these problems, such as increased paternity leave and paternity pay, there’s a simple reason why that just won’t work.

We know that when fathers were given the opportunity to share parental leave with the mother, the uptake was disappointingly low. Giving fathers more paternity leave is positive but there is no guarantee that it will be used. Society has to change before the opportunities are taken seriously by men.

And while fostering a culture where fathers spend more time with their babies is great, it doesn't address the root causes of a system that simply doesn't value domestic labour in the same way it values other work. We must elevate the role traditionally done by women inside the home, placing appropriate value in it. I’m sure I'm not alone in feeling that the work I do within the home is often invisible (it’s not even recorded as part of GDP) and yet my job as a mum is, for me, the most important one I will ever have.

One solution comes in the demand for a basic income for carers. If we can provide state subsidies for children to be cared for outside the home, then why not make it possible for mothers to do this work themselves if they want to?

Additionally, for those parents working outside the home, we should be pushing for a shorter working week and a universal, flexible childcare system designed by parents and childcare professionals.

Jeremy Corbyn helps mother lift buggy up platform stairs

As long as our labour within the home remains unpaid and undervalued, the work women do outside of it will remain low-paid and undervalued too. As Silvia Federici said in Revolution Point Zero: "The second job not only increases our exploitation but simply reproduces our role in different forms" Cleaning, caring, catering – all of these jobs are seen as extensions of the unpaid work we do in the home, all of them are traditionally done by women, and all are low-paid. Elevating, celebrating and appropriately rewarding these roles in the home will help ensure they have the status they deserve in the world of work outside the home too.

When workers first began organising into trade unions they were united around a demand for an eight-hour day. We seem to have lost the drive to preserve that victory in a 24/7 digital world, but it’s important to carry on the fight. While most jobs are no longer as physically dangerous as they once were, there’s a lot of research to suggest that they come with more mental health risks than ever before.

A reduced working week would not only reduce childcare costs but it would improve the mental health of parents. This is a far more liberating demand than recent think tank recommendations that all jobs should be advertised as possible on flexible hours.

Such a move would untangle what is often seen a binary choice between unpaid work inside the home and paid work outside of it. I'm often left feeling that if I'm doing a good job as a mother then my career is suffering and vice versa. When I work part-time, I'm more productive and focused – in part because I don't feel as though I'm neglecting time with my kids. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Jeremy Corbyn backs BBC women presenters in gender pay gap dispute

Universal childcare is of course needed because at the moment the costs are crippling – but equally because universalism has been shown to improve children's educational outcomes as they grow up.

The current offer from the Conservatives of 30 hours a week has been underfunded and only applies to children from families with working parents. Many nurseries are simply refusing to take it.

We should be asking the question of whether handing state subsidies to for-profit, privately-run nurseries, some of which are registered on the stock exchange, and whose predominantly female workers are woefully low-paid, is the best way to structure our childcare system.

We need a more flexible childcare system than the current 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday arrangement which is commonly in place at the moment. Cooperatives of parents paying each other or joint professional/parent-run nurseries should be on the agenda. This isn’t about attacking or denigrating current childcare workers – it’s about putting their concerns and their working conditions at the centre of the debate.

As a woman who has been at home caring for my kids for the past year, I've often felt cut off from politics. The world of political activism is not made for women in my situation – and this must be even more keenly felt by single parents and shift workers.

That’s why I've set up a group called mums4corbyn, to ensure mothers can play their role in building the society they want to see, where we can organise for our political demands while enjoying the fruits of our labour. Left-wing politics is about to see a renaissance – but if mothers aren’t at the centre of policy-making, nothing about society can change.

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