What’s it all about?
Mothers At Home Matter (MAHM) is the voice for the many mothers who want to be at home to bring up their children but who are rarely represented in public debate or in policy circles. We have 3 core campaigning aims that, to put it simply, centre around the following:
To promote a better understanding of children’s developmental need for loving and consistent care.
A Fairer Family taxation system
To campaign for an economic level playing field for parents who stay at home, currently penalised by a taxation system which ignores the dependent nature of the family.
To enhance the status and self esteem of mothers at home, representing their voice in policy debates.
We aim to support mothers in their journey as they raise their children and to help deal with the challenges of being at home.
Our aims in more detail:
1) To highlight children’s developmental needs
To promote better understanding of children’s developmental need for sensitive and consistent family-based care. Children need time to play and to relax at home, like we all do! However, childhood policies now focus almost entirely on replacement care outside the home and on ‘early education’ from birth onwards, delivered by professionals in Ofsted registered and inspected ‘settings’, rather than love and care from a parent at home.
If mother and baby are separated too soon or for long periods, particularly in the first couple of years, it can be detrimental to their joint health and wellbeing and attachment can be undermined. A child’s mother- and sometimes the father depending on personal circumstances – is ideally placed to provide the reliable care that a child thrives on in the crucial pre-school years. Throughout childhood it’s important for society to value the time that mothers and fathers invest in taking good care of children, including older children, because this is reflected in personal, social, emotional and cognitive benefits that are sometimes hard to measure but which we instinctively know to be true.
MAHM is concerned that despite our better understanding of child development and the importance of loving interaction and communication, there are increasing numbers of ‘baby-rooms’ in nurseries and this is fast becoming accepted the norm – but is it? We applaud the work of dedicated staff in childcare settings but many countries make different arrangements so infants don’t have to start group care in nursery so early in their lives. The length of a typical day is also a matter for growing concern and childcare from 8am to 6pm is clearly designed to accommodate parents’ working lives and commuting time, rather than a child’s needs. We believe it’s important for a family member to be available at the end of the school day and school holidays, not only in the early years but also through the ups and downs of the teenage years.
We call for government policies to be ‘tested’ for their impact on childhood developmental needs, on the parent-child relationship and family life. Although employment patterns have changed, children’s needs have not.
2) To campaign for a level playing field in taxation and allowances for all families
We campaign for fairness in the tax and benefits/allowances system, as well as in employment policy, to give more women the choice about spending longer out of the workforce. We want a more ‘family friendly’ country where parenting and family life really matters. A country where we value time invested in caring for others.
We challenge socio-economic systems which make it increasingly difficult to devote any time to ‘being there’ for the children. The current penalty in the UK tax system and the ‘conditionality’ arrangements within Universal Credit all fail to adequately factor in the needs of dependents, young and old. Indeed the UK is alone in not factoring in care responsibilities into family taxation.
We therefore campaign vigorously for changes in the tax system, which currently discriminates against couples with one adult at home caring for dependents. Not many people realise that a one-wage couple pays substantially more tax than a two-earner dual income family despite being on the same household income. A full transferable allowance (rather than partial) – or income splitting (our preferred option) – would signal a more family friendly system recognising that modern families should be treated as households, not as individuals, allowing parents to operate as a team, sharing work and care the way that suits them best. When parents lose one income to fulfil care responsibilities at home it’s hard to make ends meet since providing care for our families is never ‘cost free’ .
Although the govt talks about ‘choice’ in reality there is very little choice for most couples and this is partly down to outdated taxation policies and what might be referred to as ‘SATCH’ – the ‘Single Earner Tax Charge’. Contrary to what some commentators say, a transferable allowance is not a ‘perk’ or ‘something extra’ for marriage – it rather acts to correct the current imbalance in taxation and tackling the couple penalty when one adult takes on care responsibilities.
We are currently looking into the impact of Universal Credit. If you would like to share your concerns about how UC is likely to affect your family finances – whether you are a lone parent or in a couple – please write to us at [email protected] The ‘conditionality’ placed on households seem to neglect family care responsibilities at home and this is deeply troubling.
The loss of child benefit has been a blow to many families. We challenge the removal of universal child benefit from some mothers in middle income families, whilst others on far higher incomes retain it. Families can lose it on £50-£60k but retain it on joint incomes of almost £100k! People have mistakingly assumed that only wealthy mothers lose out but many mothers working as carers, nurses, teaching assistants or in retail have also lost their child benefit whilst their managers on far higher incomes retain it. It cannot be right that a mother who has given up her career to be there for her children or who works in a low-paid part-time job (often school hours) has lost entitlement to child benefit. To date there has been no satisfactory explanation from policymakers. Child Benefit will now be clawed back through taxation ( a ‘tax charge’) which means that many face a marginal tax rate higher than millionaires and higher than other OECD countries. In 2014/5 families will feel the impact of these changes for the first time.
Many families find it hard to meet their bills and maintain a decent standard of living, whether managing on one income or two. We challenge the misguided analysis that the ‘key’ lies in more paid work for both mothers and fathers and for subsidies for registered childcare which govt announced will be available on joint incomes of up to £300,000. Many families have substantial ‘care responsibilities’ at home and it’s essential for groups like ours to keep campaigning for fair family taxation that reflect these responsibilities. As we often point out, the UK is unique in not factoring in ‘care’ in calculation of tax due. Other countries have different arrangements – for example in France there is a system of ‘shares’ so that both couple parents and lone parents are treated fairly during the years when they’re raising children, recognising all the extra costs involved. Other countries have home-care allowances.
3) We campaign for a voice, real choice, fairness and respect for mothers
We campaign so that the voice of mothers at home caring for children is represented fairly in policy-making and we challenge the negative portrayal of mothers-at-home as being ‘non aspirational’ or as ‘just’ women in pinnies at the kitchen sink (we hasten to add there’s absolutely nothing wrong or ‘old-fashioned’ about time spent in the kitchen!). We know that most mothers have a very strong ‘preference to care’ at home, rather than handing over to a paid carer at nursery, and this should be respected if it’s the choice parents want to make. Sadly the benefits of home-based care are rarely acknowledged in government literature: in gender equality terms it’s no longer regarded as a valid personal choice for a woman, which does little for mothers’ confidence (and we know that home-dads often experience the same loss of self-esteem because ‘caring’ is so undervalued) .
Why does it matter?
It matters because there’s currently no mechanism for hearing the views and concerns of parents at home.
It matters because we know the invisible ‘care’ workforce is worth billions – and it goes without saying that its non-monetary value is impossible to calculate! We propose recognition in GDP of unpaid carers’ contribution to the economy.
It matters because through campaigning we hope to enhance the status and self esteem of mothers who often have a strong instinct to care. When parents feel supported they are in a better position to take good care of their children, confident that what they’re doing is genuinely valued economically and socially. The same applies to home-dads who need better support and recognition.
It matters because equality is about choice and opportunity for women, not just in the workplace but also at home. A mother working in her own home makes a vital contribution not only to her own family but also to the welfare of society and local communities. We challenge a system which, despite decades of feminism and equal rights, continually downgrades the work of mothers (or home-dads – basically anyone who looks after dependents) during the caring years. We know that many women who describe themselves as feminist long to see better recognition for motherhood.
When will policymakers start listening to the voices of parents at home?
We call for a commitment by all political parties to actively seek and hear the voices of parents at home – both mothers and fathers. The government already liaises regularly with groups representing the voices of working parents but not with parents at home – usually mothers- who spend many years providing care for the young and the elderly.