Peer(cing) pressure

From the moment that line appears on the pregnancy test (or is it words, or sex, or predicted SATs scores these days?), parenthood is full of dilemmas.

Do you choose a home birth or an equipped-to-the-eyeballs hospital setting? Do you breast or bottle-feed? Let your baby make her first forays into sold food via whatever she can grab or by dint of a spoon held firmly by you? And, if the latter, do you spend more hours than seems feasible pureeing a butternut squash or opt for the jars that line the supermarket shelves?

The only thing worse than facing all of these dilemmas is knowing that, even as you do so, you are prime cliche material. The things that feel (and, in fairness, sometimes are) so very vital to you, at that moment, will feel vanishingly unimportant just a few years later and whenever you see someone else in the same position, though you will usually try to hide the fact.

If you have very young children, I hate to tell you, the dilemmas don’t decrease in number as your offspring’s age increases. And if you thought that the baby stages were fraught with the risks of judging and being judged, just wait till you have to navigate your child’s request to watch or play or do something you deem inappropriate while simultaneously not calling into question the morality or good sense of their best mate’s mum who has no problem with it at all.

When your principles, your peers and the interests of your precious first (or second, or third) born collide, there is no help in being aware that everyone else has to make a choice one way or another, or that the world, in general, doesn’t thereby end. Mostly, it’s not a prolonged battle. I am entirely comfortable in my position banning Call of Duty, restricting internet access  and vetoing the purchase of hair gel for my four year old. In each case, the desire of the child in question to fit in is, to my mind, easily outweighed by the potential harm (or mess, if we’re talking about the hair gel). Other things aren’t so easy.

My daughter, who is eight at the end of the month, is desperate to have her ears pierced. She has been for at least two years. She plays Claire’s Accessories with handwritten labels, documents all ear-related jewellery in a dedicated journal in the same way that others spot birds or trains, and has an impressive collection of clip-on creations ranging from chandeliers to plastic moustaches (yes, really).  She is fairly sensible, reliable and with as much sense as any self-respecting seven year old should have. She will also, come September, be the only little girl in her class whose ears remain unpierced.

I just don’t know what to do.

I don’t want her to have it done, for reasons of, if I’m honest, snobbery, sense and safety. She is still, to me, so little and so lovely as she is. She spends all her time doing gymnastics, with long hair twined about her face and neck.  I have twice had to let piercings close up because of infection, and, having had my ears done again in February of this year, am in the unfortunate position of literally being stuck with the pair I chose, since the butterflies seem welded to the posts. In terms of practicality and safety, I feel on pretty solid ground in saying no.

And yet, she is a little girl, not just my little girl. She is a little girl whose best friend moved away last year and is still sometimes adrift in the shifting sands of friendship groups. She is a little girl who likes to fit in, who feels secure in belonging. I can teach her to take pride in being herself, but it’s a lesson I only truly learned myself as I approached forty. Is it fair to try to enforce the lesson now, in this way? Will I look back at photos of her this summer and wish I had let her have her wish, or regret giving in?

I don’t know.

And knowing that it is, in the grand scheme of things, an absolute non-issue, is no comfort at all.

School Ran

At a very rough estimate, I’ve walked 3000 miles between home and school in the past six years.

2500 of them behind a pushchair bedecked with bags and scooters and not-quite-dry works of art.

Almost all of them with my head swivelling Exorcist-style to take in the threats my children just don’t see.

Lots bowed under a cagoule hood while rain dripped down my nose.

Too many to count spent cajoling and – on occasion, berating – so that we would get there or back on time.

No, we can’t go to the park.

No, we’re not buying sweets.

Watch where you’re going.

Give it a rub, you’re alright.

IT’S A ROAD!

*******************

I must have spent over 200 hours waiting outside classroom doors to relinquish or claim children at the start and end of the school day.

Stay next to me.

Have you got your lunchbag?

Where’s your coat?

*******************

I can’t begin to calculate the permutations of handholding. Three times two times me times three.

Pulling along.

Squeezing a shared secret.

That no-nonsense grip we both know means Just You Wait Till We Get Home.

*******************

Snippets of conversations with friends as we drift along together  in the eddy of the school run only to get separated in the rapids of one or other of the children shooting off in a different direction.

Bumped calves.

Heels scooted against.

Smiles across the playground.

The same joke with the lollipop man, day in, day out.

**************************

Six years. A thousand memories.

Budget 15

Guest post for Mumsnet on the Budget:

“The government must support families as they are, not as they wish they would be”  http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/guest_posts/2420759-Guest-post-The-government-must-support-families-as-they-are-not-as-they-wish-they-would-be

Let it go

One of the things about being a stay at home mother that has annoyed me the most has been the insinuations (from others) and the nigglings of guilt (from myself) that I was setting a poor example to my children, and my daughter in particular.

The insinuations weren’t just over-sensitivity on my part, either. When research about the apparent benefits to children of working mothers was rehashed in the press a couple of weeks ago, one commentator stated:

“In some ways [the study’s findings are]  a signal to women who don’t [work] that they have to think hard about how the role they have within the household is going to impact their children’s perceptions of what it means to be a woman and to be a mother,”

I did think hard about it, before I even made the choice to leave work. How could I claim to be a feminist, how could I teach my daughter that her destiny was in her own hands, while the model I presented was one of absolute domesticity? She knew I worked from home, but that was an abstract, unseen concept. What she saw was someone who cooked and cleaned and fetched and carried: always at the school gate, when I wasn’t at the hob or forlornly harvesting socks out of the airing cupboard.

There’s no way of knowing how badly I have harmed her life chances (or otherwise). What could possibly be the control anyway? I would argue pretty strongly, though, that having always explained to her and her brothers that I chose to be at home with them while they were very little because the nursery they were at was going down the pan and because we had no-one on hand to help out with the inevitable, incessant lurgies of small childhood, that I was giving them a fairly good idea of what it means to be a woman and a mother. It wasn’t ideal – or certainly not idyllic – but it was a choice, a means to an end. It was being a grown-up (albeit one lucky enough to be able to decide).

It’s now that I am on the brink of going back to full time work, however, that I am really having to think about what my actions say and do. Not the working itself, but all the other stuff around the edges. The plan is that I will drop the children off at wraparound for breakfast, and that their dad will collect them and bring them home for an evening meal at about 6. And despite the fact that he is a fantastic father, a perfectly competent cook, and a thoroughly functional adult, he is having to chip my fingers off the meal planning to get me to relinquish control. My instincts are to write out what we are going to eat each night, to shop for it all and to plan the preparation necessary in order to ensure we eat a decent meal every (or almost every) night. But I won’t be here. This isn’t my role any more.

The same thing goes for laundry, for shopping for presents, for planning parties and filling in school slips and all the time-consuming minutiae of family life. While we divided our labour so that he earned the money and I ran the home, it made perfect sense for me to do all that stuff. I could explain to my children that I wasn’t doing it because I was a woman or a mother, I was doing it because that was how we had agreed to function as a family for a while. Children are incredibly practical. That made absolute sense to them.

When I am working as many hours as their father, though, what kind of message will I be sending then about what it means to be a mother and a woman if I insist on hanging on to all the domestic stuff? If I cling to “wife-work” as somehow my domain, despite the fact that I also work outside the home? Surely they would, unavoidably, absorb the message that women are just inherently more capable of running round with a hoover or writing an RSVP and that men shouldn’t be troubled even to try.

I hate saying that my husband is brilliant around the house, though he is, because it makes him sound like a well-trained puppy.  He has always been hands-on with the children, right from the nights when he would carry a screaming colicky No1 to the back of the house to try and let me get some sleep. Now is the time that I have to let him step in to do what he is more than willing to do to keep our little crew of five afloat and show our children, not that women can have it all, but that there is absolutely no reason why they should have to do it all. That’s definitely a perception worth impacting.

Pop socks and pep talks

My number one favourite quote in the whole English language is “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”. Not really because of what it means, but more for its simple elegance in encapsulating whole pages of self-help books, whole philosophies of mindfulness, into eight little words.

Of course its meaning is beautiful too, but I’ll be damned if I can apply it to my own life.

My own motto would be much more along the lines of “Never knowingly underthought”, with its hints at those stolid British  preoccupations of preparedness, thrift and constant, if quiet, vigilance. I approach any major life decision (by which I mean anything from choosing a new purse upwards) with the mental attitude of a SWAT team: swarming over all potential outcomes, both good and bad, and scoping out the most improbable of pitfalls to provide covering fire in the event of attack.

If this sounds like I’m boasting, I’m not. The problem with tackling things in this way is that too often, after realising a 3-D landscape fraught with threat and peopled with vivid enemy combatants, the safest way to proceed feels like to stand still and avoid taking a step in any direction. And that’s no plan for a rewarding or fulfilling life.

Occasionally, I do take a step anyway, even though it feels like the ground beneath my feet will explode as I tread down on it. Times like now, when – in what feels like a heartbeat – I am going from being a full-time stay at home mother to being a full-time worker again. With under two weeks to go, the butterflies have taken up permanent residence. I don’t know whether they signify terror or excitement, whether I am grieving for what I am about to lose or anticipating what I could gain, whether I am more afraid of what could go wrong or proud of taking the chance anyway.

From both family and professional perspectives, the risks seem manifold. The old imposter syndrome is back, on steroids. What if I can’t do it anymore? What if I never could? What if it was all a fluke and this time I will finally be caught out, with the direst of consequences? Then there are my children. They will be ok in childcare, but they will be tired. They will have to keep their public faces on for three more hours each day, rather than coming out as they so often do at the end of school and hugging me tight in what feels suspiciously like a recharging of their batteries. There will be personality clashes and missed playdates and a sudden scarcity of that precious time to just loaf and invent their own pastimes which has felt like the greatest gift I could have given them.

There is the crux. I have given them this time, and now it feels as though I am taking it away from them. All the research in the world and all the common sense observations of those around me notwithstanding, this is, in the immediate short-term, a selfish decision. I could have done something else that would have impacted their lives much less dramatically, but when it came down to it, I didn’t want to. For all the advantages that I know the example (and the money) will give them, it feels a bit…mean.

I don’t think that this will be a long term scenario, but I do need to talk myself out of the assumption that it will be a blip. These past six years, with what has been, to me, the most amazing gift of being able to prioritise home over anything else, are done. The next two weeks will be a blur of preparation as I try to pull together my wardrobe and myself so that I start this new phase in something other than jeans and hiking boots and without the mental drag of second-guessing what I’m doing and feeling that I am somehow out of place.

Nevermore

The four year old couldn’t get to sleep tonight, torn between overtiredness and a sense of grievance that the other two were out having a treat which his age precluded him from joining. I ended up staying with him as he drifted off, one hand held tight in his, the other stroking the hair he is so desperate to grow long enough to be styled into a parting and slicked down with gel.

I don’t do this anymore. I don’t watch my children as they tip from waking to sleeping, hear their breathing still and settle and their faces lose the animation of the day. Most of the time they don’t need me there, and I’m usually busy anyway. It’s only on the rare occasion of illness or upset that my presence is called for, mutely, with a pull on my hand or an arm snaked round my neck that lets me know they want me to stay.

In town earlier this week, I saw an acquaintance I knew when we had our first babies at the same time. We drifted apart after our respective third children were born, and she has gone on to have a fourth and what her profile revealed to be a fairly imminent fifth. I had thought my days of broodiness were done, but the sight of her with small children still around her and another yet to come jolted me. Perhaps it was the imminent, though different, change in my own life, that of returning to full time work for the first time in a decade. Perhaps it was the knowledge that in a couple of weeks my age will start with a four. Whatever the cause, I was, briefly but unmistakably, jealous.

Realistically, I know I don’t want to have any more children, and that having three has pushed me to my limits. I don’t think I was jealous of her so much as I was jealous, ridiculously, of my old self; that woman with the bump ten years ago who had no idea what was all to come.

These have been the most prosaic of years to the outsider. Three children and the inestimable blessing of being utterly run of the mill. Nappy changes and weaning and nursery woes. Lost teeth and bumped knees and tummy bugs. School runs and soft plays and friendship spats. If you could pick “Early Family Life” off a shelf in Tesco, this is what it would look like.

And yet.

They haven’t been prosaic to me.

Making a family may be the most commonplace thing in the world, but making your own family? That is a thing of wonder and terror. Loving your children is so expected a thing that it is taken almost entirely for granted, but to love your children? No one and nothing can prepare you for the joy and the guilt and the fear.

There is no time at which you can stop, and hold your family as a work in progress to take stock of what you have accomplished. For your materials are living threads which weave themselves into a pattern which can only ever be fully seen once finished.  It is hard to comprehend that part of this family story in which I wrap myself is complete. I won’t hold a baby of my own again, I won’t spend days wrangling toddlers and nights rising endlessly from bed. Soon, I will wipe a small bottom for the last time.

I don’t want to do it all again. I think I just wish that I hadn’t done it all already.

Advice before going on maternity leave (or a career break)

The date gets agreed and marked on the calendar as if in stone.

The days start to blur into handovers and debriefs, trying desperately to keep your focus both on your work and the impending life change of a new baby or a period out of work altogether.

Your career future, in so far as you can see it at all, looks pretty much like a medieval map of the world:a sharp drop off into an invisible unknown. That doesn’t bother you much though; you have more important things to deal with long before you reach the edge.

And then, quicker than you would have believed possible, you’re either:-

  • coming back from maternity leave
  • trying to find another job at the end of maternity leave
  • applying for jobs after a long career break

You will drag out your last CV and you will wish, as I did on all of the above occasions, that before you took the photos off your desk and re-routed your emails, you had done one or more of the following:-

  1. Made a note of what you actually DID on an average day
  2. Listed your main achievements
  3. Summarised the main people you dealt with
  4. Secretly noted the things you didn’t like about your job (and the things you wish it included)

Some of it would be accomplished by refreshing your CV before you leave, of course. If you’re the organised kind of person who keeps their LInkedIn profile up to date, you’ll be in a similar position. Speaking for myself, though, they were the last things I was thinking of doing before I left work.

The trouble is that now, applying and interviewing, I really can’t remember what it was that I actually did during my 9-5 (or 9-7, or 9-midnight). The things that were so mundane, so completely routine, that I would never have believed that they would vanish from my mind, have…vanished from my mind. I can ply prospective employers with dates and names and grades, but I feel completely thrown when asked to evidence a certain kind of behaviour or a particular type of achievement in a competency-based interview. I know that I could have done it, had I interviewed while working, I know that the ability is there, but now? Proving it is hard.

So that’s it. Before you close the laptop for the last time, before you become utterly distracted with domesticity, preserve the work “you” somewhere you’ll be able to find it again when you need it. Who knows? Trotting out the fact you did that in an interview might even help you answer a particularly difficult question.

The (Other) Mothers

Until very recently, if you’d asked me to tell you three facts about myself, I might have answered the following: I have bright red hair. I am incurably clumsy. I used to have a career.

To my immense surprise, if you asked me the same question today, the answers would be different. I still have hair next to which carrots look insipid. I still trip over invisible obstacles. But, somehow, the career has moved from being a thing very firmly in my past to being, quite possibly, a thing in my future too.

Being at home with my children for the past few years has been my choice, albeit one forced slightly by circumstances. It has been that most grown-up of things; a compromise, neither principled nor perfect, but good enough. Now that there is a chance of going back into work that I loved, though, I’ve been slightly taken aback by the sense of freedom I feel at the prospect of being something other than a mother and housewife again.

My feelings about returning to work are one thing. The varying reactions of other mothers in my circle, both online and in real life, however, have really struck me as worthy of writing about.

This is a post which has lurked behind everything I’ve ever written on working and childcare. The fact that I am now on the brink of working five days a week again, instead of being the loathed figure of the smug middle class stay at home mum, means that I feel free to write what I have always thought about the debates we have about working motherhood without being considered to have an agenda of defending or justifying my own situation.

Voices like mine, stories like mine, families like mine, with education and privilege and some degree of autonomy over our choices; voices that dominate the whole public topic of combining employment and parenthood, are precisely the voices that we don’t need to be hearing. With the best motivations in the world, with all our legitimate angst over the effects of our life decisions on our children, we skew the issues and contribute to narrowing the options for others who don’t have our advantages. It isn’t that our voices aren’t invalid or don’t matter; more that they set a narrative which just doesn’t match the reality which many women live.

I mentioned above the reactions of others to my proposed change of direction. Lots of people have been supportive, lots have said how much I will enjoy work again, notwithstanding the logistical challenges and the tug of changing my children’s lives so dramatically. But lots, too, have told me quite plainly that they think I am mad; those, by and large, who work because they have no choice but to do so, in jobs and at hours that they wouldn’t choose, with no discernible reward in achievement or pay, and with a complicated and costly structure of childcare keeping the whole thing together. These are women who feel like they are letting their children down by working too, just as I think most of us do (logically or otherwise) at some point, but who will never have the chance to opt-out or downshift or start their own business to work flexibly around the school day.

I chose to leave work, because I felt pulled in two and because our only viable option for childcare was naff at best. But I was able to make that choice because I had a husband with a decent income, and an education behind me which I knew would allow me to re-enter the world of work when I wanted to, even if in a different sphere to that I left. I choose, now, to return, with the benefits of being able to negotiate a degree of flexibility, with a salary which will smooth the way and with access to decent wraparound childcare which might not be exactly where my children would choose to be day in, day out, but which is more than fine. It’s not representative of most people’s circumstances, and it shouldn’t be used was a means to illustrate that working motherhood is attainable for all on the same terms.

Every time a politician or a journalist (or, let’s be honest, a blogger like me) writes about the importance and benefits of working to them personally and to their family, it reinforces the presumption that working per se is always without negative effects in all circumstances, and I just don’t believe that to be the case. Women across society may well have legitimate reason or need to prioritise being available to their children over paid work from time to time without it being deemed an excuse to skive.

I don’t believe that a its parents working harms a child, nor that a mother’s place is at home. I do, however, believe that very many women quite reasonably want to be able to be at home, particularly when their children are very small. I do believe that forcing women to take up low-paid work supported by poor-quality childcare is not in their best interests, or, more importantly, those of their children, and I believe also that there we don’t hear enough in support of these women or enough recognition that this is not what they would choose.

In an era of low wages and job insecurity, it is simply not fair to insist that parenting is an indulgence only available to those who have saved up enough beforehand. Many, many people will never be in a position to do that. Do we really want babies to be an luxury for the rich alone?

I’m not proposing a solution here, Nor am I criticising women who take any of the routes outlined above – increasing flexibility in the workplace can only ever be a good thing – or write about their own experiences. It is disingenuous, however, to translate this into meaning that all mothers can and should work in all circumstances without reference to the fact that they are mothers. I wish, without it being in my power to make it so, that we could hear from and accept the words of mothers from all parts of society, not just a small, comparatively fortunate one.

An overhaul of the social security system to allow ALL women to decide how to spend their children’s early years is never going to happen. We’re going in the opposite direction. Some honesty, though, that many, many mothers have no choice at all would, at least, acknowledge their situation rather than sugar coat it with the language of us who do – limited as it may be.

Not Being the Missing Type

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 11.39.36

On Friday, I had a brief chat with the wonderful Leigh Kendall (@leighakendall) on Twitter after she posted a link to her blog on blood donation with the statistic that new blood donors have decreased by 40% in recent years.

The internet is full of information on how important it is to give blood. I don’t propose to duplicate all of that here, because I am no expert and there are plenty of people who are.

Instead, I want to just tell you how easy it is.

I know that there are people who can’t give blood for medical reasons. I know that there are others who are genuinely terrified of the prospect. But if you’re neither of those, if you’ve always meant to do it but felt a bit uncomfortable, if you would like to but don’t know quite what’s involved, then I’m your woman.

First, go and visit http://www.blood.co.uk (https://www.scotblood.co.uk if you’re in Scotland). Put in your postcode and choose whichever of the forthcoming sessions near you suit you best. They are even ranked in terms of distance, with little maps. Simples.

Do you work miles from home and aren’t around during the day or can’t always guarantee you’ll be back in time for an early evening slot? Use your work postcode and nip out in your lunch break, or, if you work in a large organisation, suggest that they come to you. When I was a solicitor in a big law firm, the bus used to park outside the office for a day and anyone who wanted to could take a short break from the office to go and do their bit (insert jokes here about blood-sucking lawyers in reverse).

Once you’ve made an appointment, you’ll get a letter in the post reminding you, together with a very straightforward form to complete and take along with you. You’ll also, a few days before your appointment, get a phone call from a lovely person in Northern Ireland just checking that you haven’t forgotten can still make it.

When you turn up on the day, you’ll be asked to drink a pint of water to make sure you’re hydrated (this makes it quicker and easier to give blood). You will be asked to read a card to check you haven’t done anything in the past or since your last donation which could mean you aren’t suitable to donate. You’ll be called – pretty quickly – to chat through this in a little screened cubicle and have your finger pricked to see if your blood sinks in a test-tube (thereby demonstrating, apparently, that you are not anaemic. If you are – and I often am – you’ll have another sample taken and checked in a different machine, and if you still don’t pass muster, you leave without donating and with a faint sense of failure. Just me?)

All being well, you return to the waiting area until – again quickly – you are called up to a seat. You can choose to use your left or right arm, if you have a preference. The chair swings back so that you are comfortably reclined with a view of the ceiling, your inner arm is swabbed and a needle quickly inserted (you can ask for an anaesthetic wipe beforehand). Your arm rests on a cradle next to you. And that’s it.

It stings a bit. I find that it feels a bit unpleasant (but I’m a bit squeamish). You might have a bit of bruising afterwards. It really, honestly doesn’t hurt. You don’t see the bag filling up (it’s under the chair) and if you don’t like watching the needle in your arm (I don’t) you can look the other way. You just lie there for ten minutes or so, gently squeezing your hand and wiggling your feet to keep the circulation flowing, and when the bag is full, a little alarm goes off and the nurse comes over to unplug you. You hold a little cotton wad against the needle site for a few minutes and are put upright until everyone’s sure you’re not dizzy. If you are, you get a bit longer on the marvellously comfortable seat. You then go and sit down and have a drink and some biscuits and the chance to make your next appointment right away. The whole thing should take no more than an hour.

You can’t give blood if you are pregnant or for six months thereafter. You can, however, give blood with a baby in tow. I’ve taken my youngest with me from being a few months old and had no problems whatsoever in leaving him in the pushchair next to my side. Now that he’s older and can be trusted not to run around, the staff put a chair next to me for him. My older children sit in the waiting section, which I have always found to be in the same room (you may want to check). They all love coming, because people make a bit of a fuss of them and they are treated to biscuits at the end!

So that’s it. In my experience, over the past almost two decades and in lots of different circumstances, I have found giving blood to be straightforward, efficient and pretty manageable.

It really matters. The #missingtype campaign is aimed at highlighting why we need blood. Hopefully, this post might convince you that you can help fill the gaps.

graphic taken from www.blood.co.uk

Child Benefit

For the purposes of my own amusement, I’m imagining that I have the chance actually to pose these questions to anyone who could or would answer them. I wrote extensively about the changes to Child Benefit which were introduced in 2013, unashamedly from a personal perspective.

Since then, I’ve tried to keep away from it, not least for fear of being accused of a narrow-minded jealousy rather than a genuine desire to understand what was happening to a fundamental part of our welfare system which has been central to the notion of social security from its inception. Increasingly, I no longer care how my motives are construed.

Today, No10 has confirmed that there will be no cut to Child Benefit, although there is still talk of restricting it to the first two children in each family. I welcome announcements that it is to be protected, but I would also like to ask: what is it paid for? I can’t find up-to-date figures for the overall cost of Child Benefit, but it appears to be around £12 billion per year. That’s a lot of money. Surely we deserve answers as to the grounds on which it is spent now that it is no longer universal?

It is impossible to argue that it is paid on the grounds of need. Presently, a family with an annual income of up to £120,000 could claim some amount of Child Benefit, provided that their earnings were split between them. A family with a single earner who made half that loses it all. Neither family could be claimed to be in any way to require financial support, given the extent to which both figures outstrip average incomes, but it seems peculiar that money is freely given out to groups who are by any measure considerably better off than those who don’t qualify. When it was a universal benefit, there was a principle behind paying Child Benefit with which many could disagree, but at least it was a use of public funds which could be justified by pointing to the reasons behind that principle. Now, it is little more than an expensive, arbitrary sop.

Is it, no matter how clumsily, a means of encouraging all parents into employment? Contrary to many reports, the changed regime doesn’t just penalise single income families (whether they have one or two parents). It also hits hard at those where one earner is above the threshold and the other earns a much smaller amount. A woman working at or near minimum wage level is considerably worse off in terms of childcare costs and take home wages than a colleague earning the same amount whose partner earned just enough to still entitle the family to retain Child Benefit. If anything, cutting Child Benefit from higher-earning employees makes it more difficult and less attractive for their partners to work in part-time, low-wage roles which are those which may be most family-friendly – particularly if the high earning partner has work commitments which make them less able to help out. Again, not the most pressing of social problems, but one which deserves an answer alongside the other, more serious, systematic injustices which squeeze parents between sanctions, benefits and work.

The cuts in 2013 were reported to have saved over £1 billion. Good, if that money is going to support children and families in need. It is hard to justify any money going “for nothing” to the well-off (see also childcare support for families earning up to £300,000) when people are reliant on food banks – although I don’t accept that one causes the other. But why are no journalists challenging politicians on the hard questions behind the current status quo?

It is hard to understand why hard-working taxpayers (to use the loathed and much misused phrase) are subsiding a system of benefits paid apparently on little more than a whim; more, are seeing benefits for which they are ineligible paid to those who are better off. It is hard to understand why, in this climate of “difficult decisions” and “hard choices” cuts are made to the incomes of those demonstrably in need while payments to those who are anything but are maintained.

Are journalists and media commentators afraid of being accused of sour grapes over their own lost Child Benefit, a cut which so many were so keen to welcome loudly in print presumably for fear of the same pointed fingers? They should find their courage. I understand the scant tears at the original cuts, but this isn’t about whining to get something back, it is about holding a government to account for awarding public money in a manner which, if applied to almost any other circumstances, would sound laughably absurd. Silence in the face of an ongoing random payment of benefits is dangerously close to complicity in its eventual dismantling.