When I get up in the morning and go to work I don’t make a mental note to thank Emily Pankhurst. I’m usually too busy picking bits of drying porridge off my top and drinking cold coffee. But thanks Em – you rock.
This week we’ve been swamped in budget news and, for me, the provision of tax relief on childcare. David Cameron has given a nod to working mothers and it will be welcome, when it eventually comes in in 2015. This news, however, raised a far more interesting question for me.
Have we, in our aim to be all things to all man, ended up pitting woman against woman? Would Emily be turning in her grave as our labels of ‘working mum’ vs ‘stay-at-home-mum’, become the very weapons with which we fight? Anyone who tuned in to hear Nick Clegg mauled by ex-barrister, Laura Perrins , who made the decision to be a stay-at-home mum, will have been all to aware of her outrage.
Outrage that a working mum will be getting a tax break to which she feels she should be entitled. Her anger, which was rational and understandable, could easily spill over into a sense of them versus us. When our backs are against the wall it is human nature to defend and attack. We’re all shoring up an ailing economy, closing ranks and protecting our own. If any of you remember the famous blue eyes brown eyes experiment, you’ll know how easy it is to do.
She was angry with the Government’s decision not the working woman, just as many have been angry with our immigration policy – not the immigrant. See what I mean? Others sense that anger, change it, turn it, run with it and our titles become our reality far more than it ever should. The phrase, “I’ve nothing against….but” is ringing in our ears.
It’s a dangerous situation and one that frightens me. I work part-time and for me it works. I work three days and Arthur is in nursery two days with the third spent with his daddy. I wouldn’t want to work anymore and while I love the idea of not working I’m not 100% sure I’m ready to stop – perhaps if baby number two comes along this might change. Do I think I should get a tax break – yes of course I do. I also think mums who don’t go out to work should get economic recognition.
Others I know don’t go out to work they choose, in the words of Laura Perrins , to work from within the home – and without sounding like I’m spouting platitudes, we all know it really is hardwork! I think I’ve come to the conclusion we can’t have it all – but we have a hell of a lot. Our children have a free education, women work without a raised eyebrow or being told it’s for ‘pin’ money. Glass ceilings have been smashed but there’s still some smashing to do.
But what I really want to say is let’s not make this about home versus work but about protecting our choices. Let’s not hold them up as a mirror to the enemy. We are here because we won the war on choice, a precious commodity we should be so proud of. Democracy without emotion is hard because our choices reflect our values but choice is not clean cut or perfectly balanced but it is ours and we should stand together to protect it. Laura for example is a highly intelligent ex-barrister with a husband whose earnings fall into the 40% tax bracket.
She chooses not to work, her choice but very different from a woman working to buy gas and electricity. Is she right to be outraged – absolutely, she’s earned that right – the other woman chose to have children. Laura also said woman who stay at home should be celebrated. I think they should simply be recognised, we have the luxury of choice and no need to celebrate it further, any more than we should celebrate women who work. And before people tell me we don’t really have choice I would ask you to think about the global picture.
We should be calling for tax breaks for families, with enough common sense to reflect our economic climate. Times are hard, we have to accept that but we mustn’t accept a damaging show-down between working women and those who stay at home.
“I do not agree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire