Now lift your jaw off the floor. The report by (neo)liberal conservative think tank, Bright Blue, reads like a new genre of fiction – “domestic dystopia”. Excepted the only fiction here is the craziness these idiots are telling themselves is true in order to justify such proposals. They propose that poorer families do not receive any child benefit until their children are in the maximum of childcare from age 3, or age 2, in the case of more disadvantaged families (AKA parents the Tories consider especially scummy). The whole thing is such a steaming pile of turd that it would have been better if it had been written by the now-defunct boyband Blue. Yes, even including Lee Ryan. It’s that bad.
There are so many things wrong with these proposals that I don’t even know where to start. So let’s begin with the think tank itself. It will come as no surprise to you that here again, we have a group of nearly all rich, white, upperclass man telling working class and poor women, including plenty of women of colour, that he knows better than they do. It is led by Ryan Shorthouse, a young man who looks like he wouldn’t be able to tell you where nappies are in a supermarket upon pain of death, but who apparently comes up with loads of ideas that are adopted as government policies concerning families and young children. In other word, he apparently knows what mothers should be doing better than they do. Yet to me, they all have a very real lack of basic knowledge about children, demonstrated by their mistaken belief that early ‘readiness for school’ is a) incredibly important and b) entirely connected to parental wealth. Obviously they know better than the experts who say that children already start school far too early in this country. Just because the rest of the world has children enter education several years after the UK, doesn’t make them right, obvs. Still, I guess if my parents had been counting down the days until they could send me to public school whilst I was still young enough to think that people really disappear when playing peekaboo, I’d cling onto bullshit ideas to stop me confronting that, and if I had that much privilege I’d probably find a way of making everyone else act out my psychic wound too (although I hope I’d be better than that).
The Victorian-style belief that poverty is the fault of the poor, that their innate inadequacy, delinquency, and weak-brained inability to be good enough to have better, is particularly strong in this current batch of Tories. They are unashamed to make it clear that anyone under a certain wage threshold are scum unfit to raise their own children and are, instead, only fit to be fodder for shitwork on zero hours contracts, minimum wage or less (that they must be grateful for), and that it’s actually a kindness and a gift for them to have others raise their children for them against their will. Poor = unfit, stupid, useless, less than human, animalistic.
Look at the things listed by the Tory manifesto as the causes of poverty: “entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency”. Those are not the causes of poverty, those are caused BY poverty. The truth of poverty is being rewritten by these smug, rich, entitled individuals, for whom poverty is having to buy Laurent Perrier champagne instead of Krug. Again, this pushes the notion that the poor cause all their own problems, out of nowhere. ‘Entrenched joblessness’ comes from wilfully standing on cracks in the pavement! Financial debt is caused by not planting a magic beanstalk! Family breakdowns are caused by astrology incompatibility! They’re just innately useless, clueless and bad, and those lovely Tories just want to look after them. They know what’s best for them, for all of us. Happy happy, joy joy.
The report even has the gall to baldly state that poverty is not about a lack of money! You almost have to admire them for that level of chutzpah*. Almost. No, apparently, the effects of poverty on children are countered by <cue: acres of waffle about lots of different experience which goes against every single scrap of evidence about attachment theory and what every child expert, ever, says children under three need> and more multicultural experiences in childcare. Presumably because these think tank buffoons move in blizzard-white social circles, they must think normal people never so much as see someone of a different ethnicity out of their window. The diversity aspect is clearly a very cleverly-worded spin on the usual racist refrain along the lines of “if they won’t assimilate, send ’em back”. Of course, all this wonderful, effortless ethnic harmony isn’t at all at odds with the raging xenophobia, racism and downright fascism at times that the right-wing media force endlessly down the throats of disadvantaged people too often desperate for someone to blame for the shit they have to put up with in life. I, for one, cannot see any problems here.
(Pause for readers to imagine just how far back in my head I’m rolling my eyes)
But it’s okay! They’re going to get everyone daahn their local Sure Start centre to… hang on, didn’t they remove nearly £9 million off Sure Starts between 2011-13 alone? Perhaps we were all naive in thinking the government were determined to ruin Sure Start because the previous Labour governments had established them and they’d been great and we should, instead, have realised that they were actually being shat on in order for the Tories to promise to support them again…. IF… They accepted being overhauled to essentially withhold people’s children from them against their will, as punishment, until they are deemed contrite or worthy enough to deserve a paltry but essential sum of money. However, that’s such a horrific idea that it never actually occurred to anyone without a working diagnosis of sociopathy.
There’s nothing wrong with childcare, of course. For many parents, it is very much needed and/or desired. The issue here isn’t with childcare, it’s with the blatant inference that childcare should be used as some sort of part-time taking children into care for parents who have the audacity to not be able to find some way out of the poverty that the Tories are ensuring is forced upon them more and more and from every direction and is basically impossible to escape from. They bang on about childcare as though it’s the pinnacle of excellence for early childhood, the optimal environment for them to be in, a wondrous way for parents to find the only route to worth and status in our bright new neolib world – capitalism – and yet, they give their true feelings away when they talk about using childcare in the ways proposed by the think tank. And that is that they really believe that only bad parents need it. No, good parents are rich enough to make sure that they hardly ever see their kids, by using nanny and boarding schools.
==Question: if they value childcare providers so bloody much, how come they are nearly all very young women on low-paid wages?==
They want to make attachment a luxury only for those mothers and children deemed adequately economically deserving. They want to make raising one’s own children a luxury out of the majority’s reach, and infer that it’s selfish, wrong and inferior, to boot. They want to make love a luxury the poor can ill afford or deserve. They don’t really believe that childcare is the best option for poor families, it’s just that it’s the best way of looking like they’re helping people (or helping them help themselves, as they always lie) whilst continuing to shit on them from a great height and get away with it. They don’t really want the poor to have lives that don’t revolve around serving or benefiting the better-off and rich. Children are an annoying distraction for the poor, in the eyes of the rich. This is their new workhouse: if you can’t look after your family on nothing (because they’ve made sure you get nothing and that you can’t), they’ll occupy your children’s time whilst you pay penance through drudgery and the punishment of separation. Hey, you get to sleep in your own home at night, not a lice-infested bunk with seven other people all suffering from Dysentery, what are you complaining about, paupers?!
Child benefit was implemented (as Family Allowance) by the Attlee government to acknowledge, support and remunerate the hard work done by mothers. Now the Tories are destroying everything that it stood for, should stand for, and who should get it. Ceasing to make it an unconditional, universal payment paved the way for them to redefine, and diminish, who is apparently worthy of receiving it, and to turn it into some sort of bribery. Never before have the Tories made it so clear that they want to hold ordinary people to ransom by capitalism. The report doesn’t even seem to say that children will be forced into childcare for their parents to find or increase paid employment. It’s very obviously all about minimising contact and bonding between poor children and their parent or parents or guardian, and about upholding the notion that poor parents = poor parenting.
Parenting one’s own child(ren) is not a luxury – nor should it ever be. Wealth is no indicator of how good a parent someone may be (for proof of this, just look at the government themselves!). Forcing unwanted childcare on families is as bad as denying parents, especially mothers, jobs. If Tories like the Bright Blue think tank, had any understanding of what it is like to go without, if they had any compassion, if they actually wanted for one second to really help ordinary people, hell, if they had a single shred of self-awareness… well, um, then they wouldn’t be Tories. There’s the paradox.
Appalling proposals like this one are exactly why maternal feminism is so vital. We are not just fighting for the rights of mothers and carers and striving to address clichés and stereotypes, we are fighting to reveal and demolish the absolute hatred and fear of everything that comes under the umbrella of ‘maternal’ that underpins patriarchy and capitalism and that our very society is formed upon. This is not hyperbole. If we stop respecting the vital importance of mothering, of the bond between mother and child, if we do not respect it as proper, real work, hard work, if we do not see it as necessary, then the floodgates are opened wide for this sort of obscenity, and worse, to be proposed, passed as law, and put into motion. There is a continuum, that starts with “what do you do all day?” and ends with “give your children to others to look after in the day or you won’t be allowed enough money to survive on”. And that won’t be the end unless we act now. It will only be the start. –EP
*Maureen Lipman once wrote that the definition of chutzpah was pissing into someone’s letterbox then ringing the doorbell to ask how far down the hall it went. Which is pretty much perfect here.