Family Units

Have you ever noticed your brain being washed even while it’s happening? I think I have.

I caught myself earlier feeling something akin to guilt. Not only am I not currently paying income tax, but I am, quite possibly, depriving others both of the opportunity to work, and to pay income tax themselves. If I still worked in my old profession, I’d be paying income tax. My children would need childcare, I would almost certainly pay for a cleaner and/or handyman to help with household chores, and I would have enough disposable income to pay for my legs to be waxed or my hair to be cut at more frequent intervals than when I start looking like Chewbacca. All that lost revenue, all that wasted job creation, and it’s all my fault. A teeny tiny bit of the curve on that double (triple?) dip is all down to me.

It’s funny, in an un-amusing kind of way, how self-image depends on how you think society sees you. There was I, thinking that by staying at home, and adding a generous dollop of voluntary and community work to the old fashioned role of housewife, I was contributing to society, albeit not financially. I’m not coming at this from any ideological position. I don’t think that there is any “right” way for a family to operate. I do, however, think that if families don’t operate well, we all – and especially children – lose out.

It is true (and understandable, in many ways), that families don’t get much financial recognition.  The changes to Child Benefit mean that some children, even of higher rate taxpayers (particularly single parents in London, for example) will be left worse off, and beg the question of what Child Benefit is actually for. Maternity pay and provision are under threat; and even “family-friendly” employment policies usually seem focused on getting both parents into as much work as possible, rather than contemplating the family which would like to function, without handouts, but without penalty, for choosing a different model.

Worse still, especially because it’s entwined with that modern day bogey, the feckless benefit-sponging breeder, are welfare and tax credit changes which push parents of young children into highly family-unfriendly employment patterns.

It’s a difficult case to argue, and it’s made harder by the fact that the fantastic progress of women into higher education and careers has had the positive result of drawing many more women into the workplace for the duration of their adult lives. Nor am I so naive to think that many women, now and at all times, have had any choice but to work outside the home. I would hate to see a return to a world where girls were considered not really worth schooling, or where employment would cease on marriage or a first pregnancy. That goes without saying. There just seems to be a somewhere in between that we’ve missed; something that looks beyond the bottom line.

I don’t for one moment think that families and children are harmed by women working. I do, however, think that they’re harmed when work becomes the dominant factor, when we reduce “home” to the place we sleep, “family” to mere relatives, and deem staying at home with children to be the preserve of the work shy. In my more cynical moments, I think that both family and home have simply become consumer concepts: things we spend money on. And this is where I spot the brainwashing, and I take a step back. I don’t believe that a person’s worth is defined solely by his or her net financial contribution, and I refuse to believe that unpaid activity is valueless. People are not units, to be counted, and weighed, and balanced against each other.

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