There is a profound unfairness in the way the state supports families with pre-school children. Whilst significant support is rightly offered, in the form of tax-free childcare and 30 hours of free childcare a week, to couples in which both parents work, nothing is offered to families in which one parent chooses to remain at home, caring full time for their children. This is not only deeply unjust, but it utterly undervalues the important work done by those – often, but by no means exclusively, women – who make this choice.
Many people argue that the Government should not impose one form of lifestyle upon families. But the status quo, by embedding such a large disparity in support, does precisely this: it strongly encourages a family in which both parents work and discourages the equally valid choice in which one parent chooses to look after their own children. All subsidies distort choices, and at over £5,500 a year – about a fifth of the median household income – the level of disparity is of a scale to fundamentally distort the choices and options available to most families.
In reality, every family is different. In some families, it is absolutely right for them that both parents go back to work. In others it may be better, both for the parents and for the well-being of the children, if one parent – whether they are a man or a woman – stays at home to look after those children. It all depends on both the talents and inclination of the parents and the nature and needs of the children concerned. In an ideal society, each family would be able to make that choice depending on what was best for them and their children; however, under our current system, only the former is given support. This means that many parents are forced back to work as the only affordable option, even if when that is neither economically efficient nor what they wish to do. Increasingly, caring for one’s own children is becoming a luxury available only to those that have at least one high-earning parent.