Stay-at-home parents left out in the cold by Treasury
In a speech last month, our outspoken Treasury Secretary Ken Henry referred to the hitherto unknown but enticingly-titled “Treasury well being framework” as a measure of determining what is best for families and working parents.
Wow ! After years as the ultimate BBQ stopper-conversation, maybe the esteemed boffins at Treasury stumbled upon the elusive answer to the work/life balance question?
I looked forward to reading the magic formula and seeing how I measured up.
Unfortunately, Mr Henry didn’t spell out what the “well being framework” was, but he was very reassuring that Treasury actually had one. By way of explanation he suggested that the participation of parents in the paid workforce was a significant measure of “well being”.
I think that’s pretty much a given. There’s no doubt that there is significant disadvantage associated with families in which there is no wage-earner – whether they be single or couple parents. One of the stark statistics in a recent ABS Report was that there is no wage earner in around 11% of Australian families.
Economic independence is undoubtedly an important measure of well being for any family. That’s why a strong economy with plenty of job opportunities is a crucial part of good social policy.
However, in developing his argument Mr Henry revealed perhaps the true nature of Treasury’s “well being” calculations.
He went on to suggest that, once children are of school age, the optimal situation for couple families would be for both parents to be working and for “government benefits” to cease at that stage. The implication was especially those benefits that in any way help or assist one parent being a full-time carer.
The Daily Telegraph’s interpretation of Mr Henry’s speech was quite telling, with the headline screaming “Treasury to get tough on bludging soccer Mums”.
Yes, those parents who take on the role of caring for their children scored the title “bludger”. If you’re not in the paid workforce 9 to 5, and you have the time to take your kids to soccer practice, hey – lift your game, you’re failing Treasury’s “wellbeing” index.
This sort of characterisation of couple families who make the personal financial sacrifice in order to have one partner care for their children is as demeaning as it is wrong.
Let’s look at the recent ABS Report “Work, Life and Family Balance” to get a true picture of the labour force participation of parents.
Of all families with children, 81% are couple families. Of these couple families, 62% have both parents employed, 33.5% have one parent employed, and 4% have neither parent employed. Of the 62% with both parents employed only 34% have both employed full-time, while 61% have one-parent full-time and one parent part-time.
The bottom line is that, while the popular culture image of both parents racing off to full-time work is considered a modern-day norm – only 21% of all Australian couple families chose this work arrangement. 79% don’t.
This is reflected in the fact that only 22% of children under 12 attend any sort of formal childcare – and the majority do so for less than 20 hours a week.
There is one thing at the heart of the choices parents make when trying to find the right work/life balance for their particular family - their children.
I don’t know where the happiness, well being and needs of children sit in Treasury’s “‘well being framework”, but they are pretty high up the order for parents in determining their own personal family well being index.
And before I once again get the usual detractors claiming I want to drag the women’s movement back to the dark ages, can I just say I’m in no way criticising the choice of women who want to work full-time and who can successfully raise a happy family while doing so. I applaud and congratulate them.
In fact, facilitating women’s working lives should be an absolute priority.
But the only way we will achieve better workplace flexibility for women is to acknowledge that many women will, for some period of time in their working lives, chose to take time out of the paid workforce, or to work part-time hours, in order to take on care responsibilities. This should be accepted, and recognised as beneficial to our society – not belittled.
The reality is that very, very few women in modern society will make a decision to withdraw from the workforce permanently. It just doesn’t happen.
Women are more educated than ever before and their working lives are very important to them. 28% of all Generation X and Y women have a Bachelor degree or higher, compared to 21% of men in these age groups.
We are already seeing a trend where more men are making the choice to take on care responsibilities and using flexible workplace arrangements in order to do so. And it’s highly likely that in couple families in the future, it will be the woman taking on primary wage-earner status and the man taking on a greater share of care responsibilities and part-time work.
Whatever the choices parents make, there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to caring for ones own children for a period of time (and as every parent knows, they’re only little for such a short time).
Acknowledging that the vast majority of children thrive when they are primarily cared for by a loving, engaged parent, doesn’t mean an implied criticism or guilt trip for those parents whose children attend childcare. It’s just a recognition of reality.
The Government and community should also recognise the social capital that so-called “soccer mums” contribute in our schools, sporting groups, communities and other areas of the voluntary sector.
If we withdraw those “working mums” the community is going to suffer, just as surely as the economy would suffer from the withdrawal of paid working mums.
We must do more to help those families who are economically disadvantaged and especially single-parent families who face greater challenges in treading the tightrope of work/family balance.
I’d expect that Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and his team will more clearly articulate what constitutes their “well being framework” and come up with some innovative ideas to help all families in their Tax Review.
If Treasury is to ultimately take this foray into social policy and be an arbiter of family “well being”, I hope that Mr Henry will do more than simply imply that two working parents means happy families. Many Australian families would beg to differ.
Don’t miss: Get The Punch in your inbox every day
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…