Thursday, 25 June 2015

Mothers and Work

Mothers and Work

“States members voted in favour of the law change meaning parents have to start job-seeking when their child turns three and starts nursery school. In the past parents on income support did not have to look for a job until their child was five years old. The change in legislation has also increased the rate of funding for childcare paid through income support. The Social Security Department said it believed about 100 parents whose children will start nursery in September would be affected by the change. Deputy Susie Pinel, Social Security Minister, said the change was to encourage people into work as parents now get 20 hours free nursery care for a year.” (BBC News)

To make it clear, the 20 hours refers to an entitlement of a child of up to 20 hours of free education each week at nursery, for 38 weeks, in the school year that they turn four. It’s not 20 hours a year!

That is 4 hours a day, which when fetch and carry are removed probably amounts to around 3 hours a day. So essentially, if they have no other support from family (parents, relations), single parent mothers (for example) will be able to work.

But the Social Security Minister does not seem to have checked what the position is for a recruitment agency, asking them how many jobs they have that will fit in with nursery hours. In fact, I have been told by my correspondents that many agencies will not even register you if you are seeking part time hours as roles are so few and far between. This needs to be addressed.

We also need some kind of legislation to make employers give due consideration to 'family friendly' policies, such as reduced hours, need to be put in place first

Susie Pinel says: “It makes no sense to continue to allow low-income parents to remain outside the workforce for long periods of time now that support is available to help them return to a suitable part-time job and secure a greater likelihood of economic independence.”

"The child not only benefits from the experience of a nursery education, he or she also has a better chance of growing up in a household where parents are working and aiming for financial independence."

Where there is no provision, however, is for the problem when a child is ill and the parent has to leave the workplace to be with them, or they are kept as long as possible at a nursery, in which case the germs spread. The stress and nature of this conflict is something that is not fully appreciated, least of all by men, who seldom have to take upon that role.

Despite the rise of feminism, it is surprising how the older patterns persist, and it is the mother and not the father who mostly has to face the difficult choice.

Something needs to be done about that, and it certainly carries with it the likelihood that many women with children will be on zero hour contracts. This means that the workplace need not worry so much about paying them when they are off caring for a child, and the stress to the mother is somewhat reduced. But it is not an ideal situation, where eligibility for income support, especially with low income parents, may be variable from month to month. Financial planning is difficult in such circumstances.

As Zach Bernstein notes: “any worker, male or female, could need to take time off to care for a sick family member, and should have access to paid leave – but the data indicates that women are far more likely than men to take time off from work to care for a child or family member. “

It is not just paid maternity leave that is required but a limited number of paid sick days, even under zero hour contracts. HR systems of logging and multiplying small days off by using the Bradford factor only ramp up the stress.

Stress worrying about the conflict between taking time off to care for sick children or working is not good for the employee. As Zach Bernstein notes: “Any employee benefit, whether it’s paid time off to deal with an illness or following childbirth, equal pay, or childcare, ultimately results in the same thing: happier, more productive employees.”

As Mary Midgley comments, there is a need for the workplace "to accommodate within its structure those women who wish to continue with some form of paid work during the period when they have demanding family responsibilities, as well as those who wish to return to work after a relatively short absence. Solutions to the problem of how women can be accommodated in the work-force began with the demand that women should simply adapt to the status quo."

And she notes that balancing employment and child care is something which tends to fall upon women rather than men:

"In spite of the fact that they were attending to other equally time-consuming and important aspects of social life, women were expected to work on the same terms as men if they were to be regarded as employed. The traditional view of work is that those who are employed are expected to devote most of their time and energy to .that employment. Those who do not are allowed, when it suits the employer, to work part-time (part-time in relation to the norm), but at the price of security, decent pay and fringe benefits."

I’m not sure whether Jersey has anything approaching the UK where the Employment Rights Act gives employees the right to take time off for “urgent family reasons”. The right allows an employee to take a reasonable amount of time off work in order to take action which is necessary:

- To provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured.
- To make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured.
- In consequence of the death of a dependant.
- Because of the unexpected disruption or termination of care for the dependant.
- To deal with an incident involving a child of the employee occurring unexpectedly at an educational establishment which the child attends.

A good workplace will be flexible in its working practices, but legislation ensures that all workplaces have to measure up to that standard.

As Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families notes of the UK changes:

“Flexible working retains and motivates employees, leading to savings in recruitment costs and reductions in absenteeism and sickness rates. Research shows flexible working leads to improvements in performance, both at the individual and the team level.”

A secondary feature which I think we have been seeing is the rise of children being referred because of language problems or autistic traits of some degree. While the child stayed at home, this was not a problem until the child reached school age, and by then some of the problems may have diminished.

If I may cite a personal anecdote, one of my sons was virtually unable to speak at 5, despite coaching from ourselves, speech therapists and other professionals, but during his 5th year, his speech suddenly developed quite rapidly and spontaneously, so that by age 6 he could take his place at a Primary School. Developing language as late as ages 5 to 8 is a common trait with autism, although not exclusively so.

So as more children go to nursery school, where they have to socialise – this is the “experience of a nursery education” – those that cannot easily socialise stand out perhaps more than they might do, and aspects of linguistic pathology are more acute. This in turn will place a greater burden on speech therapists and special needs social workers.

Childhood is changing, as the demands of lifestyle choices, and the risk of poverty drives most parents back to work as soon as possible. Nurseries are an escape valve allowing a measure of support, in particular to working mothers. Richer parents hire nannies, and no one seems to criticise that practice for a lack of the benefits that a nursery would bring!

Childhood has changed very much because of increased life expectancy and contraception, both of which have changed the centuries old choice for women of career or job or marriage. 

As Mary Midgley notes in "Women's Choices":

"Successive changes in life-cycles made this particular choice look less and less plausible. As life expectancy increased and contraception became more effective and widespread resulting in smaller families, women suddenly found .that they had .time on their hands at a stage in their lives when. previously they might have been dead or still breeding."

But studies are ambivalent about whether nurseries help a child socialise, or change the pattern of their formation in all kinds of ways. In nurseries, in early contact with many other children, some children may be very withdrawn and shy within groups, while others may show aggression and rivalry with others.

Quite how these traits play out in later life is difficult to tell, and as Michael Rutter has observed, some scientific data can be collected to show both benefits and disadvantages of nursery education. What is more likely is that it will have a different effect on the child than one more year at home in the care of a parent, and that the earlier separation may be more stressful to a greater number of mothers.

In this respect, statements - such as we see coming from the Social Security department - which suggest early nursery education is actually better for the child than the mother should be treated with a degree of scepticism. It is attempting to make the best of a bad job. 

So it is worth bearing in mind Mary Midgley's comment on professional childcare, be it creche or early nursery experience:

"As far as the welfare of children goes, nobody supposes that an institutional upbringing is actually better than a normal family one. To be left to the hands of professionals - even kind ones is. recognized as a misfortune. We do not find a crowd of autobiographies in which people rejoice at their particular good fortune in having been brought up in this way. The demand for creches is not motivated by consideration for the children."

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