Government policy on women’s rights and welfare harms children and families, and fails to deliver what women want, argues Cristina Odone in a new pamphlet published today by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Challenging the feminist orthodoxy head-on, her pamphlet argues for a family-friendly policy, rather than one promoting women’s rights in the workplace. It cites a groundbreaking new opinion poll specially commissioned from YouGov. This shows that, given the choice, only 12% of mothers – less than one in eight – actually wants to work full time. 31% would rather not work at all. Only 1% of mothers and only 2% of fathers thought that the mother in a family where the father worked and there were small children should work full time.
Labour has spent billions promoting a macho agenda that aims to get women into work and more work out of women. But this policy satisfies only one in five women and ignores the wishes of 99% of mothers with young children.
Notions of women’s progress over the past decade have been measuring the wrong things, Odone argues, such as greater numbers of women in top jobs, better state-funded childcare and a shrinking earnings gap. “That is based on an unspoken – and false – assumption: that women achieve self-realisation through their career” says Odone.
So why does the state regard only full-time paid work as worthy, and time spent caring for families as a waste, or a sign of victimhood? The reason, says Odone, is simple: the debate about women’s role in society has been taken over by a small minority of high-profile career women with priorities quite unrepresentative of the rest of Britain (and often with the household budgets to pay for atypically good fulltime child care). These women have bought into the masculine value system that ranks the pay packet and the corner office above mothering, caring for the elderly, and volunteering in the community.
This same high-profile minority believes women must be wholly autonomous beings – ignoring real women’s yearning for couple inter-dependence.
Government policy is not reshaping the world to fit women’s wishes, but bending women to fit the demands of the workplace, Odone argues. She writes: “The establishment is determined to fashion British women in its own mould: autonomous units of production rather than creators of, and investors in, social capital.”
Instead of making it attractive for employers to offer part-time work the state burdens them with extra regulations and requirements. The tax and benefits system penalises women who want to care for their families, and subsidises those who neglect them. The effects are catastrophic: though many working mothers manage through great personal sacrifices and good planning to care for their children properly, many do not.