As national elections loom on the horizon I have been thinking about what is expected of us as parents under this Government and a possible Conservative Government after the next election. It baffles me because the values on which the government seems to place the most emphasis appear to ignore the most vulnerable in society. When it comes to health, employment and education the government seems to only favour a certain type of family at the expense of the rest.
The problem with NHS reform is this: they are difficult to understand and have been deliberately hidden. There is limited discussion in the media and debate is masked behind complicated terms. As someone who has studied social policy I still recoil at terms like free trade agreement and anything to do with competition law as they take me straight back to the A Level economics class that I tolerated but did not enjoy much. However, here is the truth: The Health and Social Care Act has opened the flood gates. NHS organisations can now make up to 49% of their income from paying patients. A free trade deal is under negotiation with the US which would mean that american health care providers will have a right to bid to run NHS services (obviously not out of the kindness of their hearts). As far as I can tell the bottom line is this: If we can’t pay for the service we will get will be substandard or non-existent. Jeremy Hunt says the reforms are about ‘good vs bad care’ and he’s right. We can expect good care if we can afford it. As a parent, this is worrying to say the least. Not necessarily that I expect the government to allow children to die because they can’t afford to pay for excellent treatment but that they would happily allow a child’s parents to suffer low quality care because they can’t afford the good stuff. The implication that someone’s life is more valuable than another’s because of how much money they have or earn is deeply concerning. Our obligation as parents in that case will be to make sure we have adequate health insurance cover for our family – at what cost? Will employers provide this? What if i’m not employed?
It is clear from just reading the headlines that the government wants adults – parents – to be working. I think you’d struggle to find a large number of parents who would disagree – it is not pleasant to have to claim benefits to feed, clothe and house your children, in my work I haven’t come across a parent yet who would like to remain on benefits rather than be working. However, the barriers to employment are insurmountable for so many. Childcare costs, on average, £7,549 per year. If we were to put both of our children in childcare for 4 days per week it would cost us £18,720. Meaning to just break even on my income I would have to earn a whopping £24,150, and that’s only taking into consideration childcare as a cost. Childcare vouchers would have a very small positive impact on this – but when you add in commuting costs I would probably need to earn significantly more to make no extra money. The average salary in the UK is around £21,000 depending on where you are and what you do, obviously. So, to actually make working pay I’d have to earn way above the average income. I do work though, I run a charity and have an evening job and I’m lucky enough to have a husband who works in a job that the market deems valuable enough that he can support us. The average income is certainly not the same as the minimum wage – so what is the situation for people who want to work but can only get minimum wage jobs, or zero hour contracts, or temporary work? It is hard enough to find childcare who you trust, let alone who can be available according to when your employer chooses to give you hours to work. The government, and its predecessors, tried in vain to make working easier for parents but none of these schemes (tax credits for example, among others) have addressed the fundamental problem: parents who are in need of benefits are still parents – they are not going to risk their children’s security, home, school place or any thing else on insecure jobs and a huge gap in their income. As I understand it (as if anyone can really fully understand such a vast and complicated system) the moment you accept paid employment your benefits are cancelled. The welfare payments that took a long time to obtain, battling through the bureaucracy to get right, are stopped and reapplying for them if your job finishes or your contract is not renewed is a long, drawn out process that can leave parents desperately trying to just put food on the table. Part of our obligation as parents is to provide a secure home for our children – how can a lot of the parents in this country do this when it is impossible to get reliable, secure jobs that pay fairly? Are the children of these parents less valuable because their parents cannot ‘work hard to get on’?
Well, the solution may well lie in education. Educate and train children and young people so that working age people are better equipped to obtain well paid, secure jobs. Yes? No, apparently. On the surface Gove’s promise in February this year to raise the standards in state schools to that of their fee paying counterparts sounds reasonable. His problem, like mine in Maths GCSE is in the workings. His wild claims – that a longer school day, less holidays and more rigorous examinations will raise standards – have gained almost universal disapproval especially from teachers and parents. Teachers haven’t been consulted and these reforms are widely regarded as something that will most certainly create a huge gap between the children who will thrive and those who will not. So what of those who will not? Are we as parents left with no option but to provide an education for them outside for formal, traditional school? Are they less valuable because they do not fit the narrow mould that Gove has decided they should?
As parents our obligation should be to provide a loving, stable home. A family life – however that looks – which nurtures and grows our children to whatever it is they are going to look like as adults. A family in which children are valued for who they are and not how much they are worth. Surely, the government – in all its emphasis on the importance of the family – should be providing a healthcare system, an environment where employment pays and an education system where value is placed people over money? As a parent my biggest concern is that my children are growing up in a world where governments have lost sight of the basic truth that people – all people – are more important than money.