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Taking a broader perspective…

Let’s be Frank…

By Jane Watkinson

Frank Field’s recent musings around possible benefit reforms to reduce child poverty should cause some concern for feminist and pro-women activists. What is rather striking is his desire to cage women in at home, offering them economic incentives when the child is young. The Times explains:

“He said there was a clear case for providing more money in the early years to help mothers to stay at home after their child was born — a policy also backed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary…The benefit could be taken away when the child reached 13 or 14, when a mother was more likely to want to go out to work.”

There are several problems with this. It is a clear attempt to revert back to the ‘good old days’ of the nuclear family, when in fact, these were not ‘good old days’ for women – instead, they were often very oppressive. Women shouldn’t be made to feel as though staying at home and looking after their children is somehow a ‘natural’ obligation/role.

This attitude is precisely what prevents a radical childcare policy forming. Also, it is not as easy as saying, “well, when the child reaches 13/14 the woman can just automatically go back to work”. This neglects the years out of work that the woman has experienced, it can take time to readjust to work again. It also ignores the likely dependence that women may have on their partner – as economically, for example, they are less likely to have built up a pension.

Central to Field’s vision is also a promotion of ‘good parenting’. This will see the state become even more involved with personal and family life. Thus, again, it is another example that whilst the government preaches a damaging retrenchment of the state effecting vital public services, they are expanding the state in areas that undermines people’s civil rights.

There is no wonder that Field has been appointed by the Tories; he fits their mantra and ideological vision of a ‘good society’ so clearly. Feminists and supporters of women’s rights need to make sure to assert a campaign against attempts, such as this, which threaten to undermine the movements away from ‘natural’ conceptions of the division of labour within households and the family.

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Filed under: Feminism, Welfare, , , , , , ,

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