Dear Mr Gove, no too formal. Michael, no too weird. It’s like calling your teacher by their first name. I’ll go with Mr G.
Mr G. I am going to start with a bit of an apology for addressing this to you, as I am not entirely sure that it actually rests with you. However, when writing to other politicians my letters have ended up being forwarded to your department. Sorry – you’ve been nominated. They dare you to deal with the crazy working mum lady.
Yes, we’ve exchanged some correspondence via my MP. Don’t worry, I know you are a tad busy and it is highly unlikely you will have actually read them. I know that my parliamentary pen-pal is most likely Eddie the work experience boy with your signature on the bottom. It’s ok - I get it. Politicians can't spend all day letter writing. (Although if you want some feedback to Eton on Eddie I’d go with a B-. Excellent use of embossed letterhead, exemplary use of accountability dodging legal acts, but major failure to address the actual question).
You see I have a bit of an issue. An issue that can only be fixed by people like yourself. I am mother to a 2 ½ year old with complex needs, both medical and developmental. He is very complicated. He is also very fabulous. He is happy, social and totally digs nursery.
I am a working mother. I have to be. And I want to be. I worked long and hard to get a career that I care about. Whilst I will always put my son first, I know that in my case, being a working parent enables me to be a better parent. It enables me to give my son financial stability and a plan for the future. It enables me to have time away from the immense responsibility of being a ‘carer’. It gives me a chance to miss him and reminds me how very precious our time together is. But despite an epic battle to rival Waterloo (if Waterloo took place over WH Smith stationary) I have had to leave my job. Why? Because there was absolutely zero affordable childcare option available to me, even on a three day per week basis. This is purely because of my son’s disabilities. Ouch.
Now, Mr G, I have to confess that I have been a tad perplexed by this lack of governmental support for parents like myself. You see, the cost to the state to enable me to work is pretty minimal. The cost to the state of me not working is a consequential landslide that will turn to an avalanche as I lose my career, get older and fall further from employment. You see, my inability to work means an inability to pay taxes. I no longer contribute to the system. I have no choice but to claim Carer’s Allowance – at a cost to the taxpayer. I will not be inputting into the new government pension scheme. My retirement will come – at a cost to the tax payer. Our house has been declared un-adaptable for wheelchair use. At the moment, we cannot pay the thousands of pounds needed to cover stamp duty and solicitors costs to move somewhere appropriate. The official advice from our local authority? Join the council housing register – all together now…
With all this in mind, recent headlines have left me a little erm, perplexed (not throwing the newspaper out the window, that would just be childish.) It seems everywhere I turn there are tales of you and your pals brining in new plans to increase childcare and bring more people into the workforce. The welfare state is apparently bursting at the seams and action must be taken! Yet myself and other parents like me are jumping up and down, hands in the air begging you to let us work. Why can’t you see us? Why won’t you see us? Why are you opposing your own party policies by pushing us deeper into the benefits system? It just makes no sense. And so I have decided there must be a reason. There must be an economic or sociological reason why you have decided it is better that we don’t work. I admit it’s been taxing, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to three:
1) You have decided that Social Services and the NHS aren’t busy enough. If all these parent carers are allowed to work and become financially stable and lead a balanced life, it may reduce the number of emergency care requests or hospital admissions. The streets could become filled with dejected public sector staff, traipsing across the roads, demanding to fill their time with things like extra training, or, even worse trying to improve the system. My god, the humanity.
2) You are deeply concerned about the impact of carers entering the workplace on the British tea industry. You figure carers drink a lot of tea (all that being at home and lack of affordable heating). It could be truly devastating. The thought of Gaffer and Sydney moving into a squat with PG Tips monkey is too much to bear.
3) You and George O were having fun with numbers, when you accidentally deleted a zero from the ‘social care’ column. It’s ok. Excel can be tricky like that. (hint – if you are struggling to find it again, check the column marked ‘MP expenses’)
Now whilst all of these are excellent reasons, I am going to ask you to hear me out and have a re-think. I want you to understand that I am not here cap in hand, claiming destitution. Actually, I am very lucky that my husband has a good job that keeps a roof over our head. But without my salary, meeting the huge additional costs of a disabled child, such as an unexpected requirement to move is incredibly difficult. What I want you to understand is that this could happen to anyone. No one expects to become a carer. No one takes out a mortgage or rents a property and puts a ‘what if we have a disabled child and we lose half our income’ plan in place. And when it happens – it’s tricky.
When my son was born, we had a plan. I would take maternity leave, my son would go to nursery and I would return to work. Only fate had other ideas. At six months old our little boy became very unwell. We were told he had a syndrome. An unknown, potentially devastating genetic condition. My employers were incredibly supportive. Rather than demanding I returned or left, they put me onto a one year sabbatical period with the option to return part time. Perfect. During the course of that year our little boy because more medically stable. He was ready for nursery. I was ready to go back. We needed me to go back.
I confess I was very naïve. It really didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to work. It was only at the last minute that the immensely frustrating reality became clear. You see, my son needs a 1:1 staff ratio in order to attend nursery. The cost of paying for a 1:1 on top of nursery fees pretty much exceeds my salary, as does a nanny. The local authority do hold an ‘inclusion budget’ to pay for the additional staffing costs in exactly this type of situation. But they would initially only agree to six hours per week. This increased to fifteen hours, term time only (ten hours when stretched over holidays) thanks to a three month battle and the discovery of a legal loophole that could not be argued with. We have no other childcare beyond this ten hours – none what so ever. We expect to pay nursery fees. We are willing to pay nursery fees. But the fees in our case are 2.5 times higher than for a child with no disabilities.
Ten hours per week. Two afternoons. I challenge anyone to maintain a career on those hours. And, before you give me a dismissive head nod and start talking about how we just need a ‘Statement of Educational Needs’ (Eddie’s been there already), you and I both know that a statement will not lead to an increase in hours until he reaches statutory school age. And yes, we have one coming thank you.
I am incredibly lucky that I have found a role with a fantastic organisation for a few hours per week. But jobs like this are incredibly hard to come by and simply not an option for a lot of people. I also want you to understand that I am not saying that all parent carers should be expected to work – many absolutely need to be at home and they need the support of the system in a very different way. But when there is a child who not only can attend nursery, but who gets a huge amount from it and a parent who has a job on the line, ‘tough luck’ isn’t good enough.
Now my reason for addressing you en mass rather than just you Mr G is two-fold. Firstly I am more interested in party policy than personalities and I don’t particularly like aiming comments at one particular individual (ok, Collin Brewer was an exception). But more importantly there is a startling absence of accountability when it comes to this issue. Your office has passed me back to my local authority. Only my local authority aren't budging and feel that it is a national issue. And I have to say I am with them on this one. To decide the childcare policy affecting one minority group on an area by area basis is, quite frankly, ludicrous. If this was applied to all mainstream children there would be an outcry. If children in Devon could attend nursery for fifteen hours, but children in Dorset could only attend for six. Can you imagine? You’d need to batten down the hatches, because there would be an angry sleep deprived nappy waving army headed your way (and that's one scaarrryy army).
Then there is the downright upsettingness of it all. Yes, I know that’s not a word. That’s how upset I am. Why? Because no one cares. I have written to you, written to my local authority, written to the Head of Children’s Services, written to and met with my MP. ‘Not my problem’ is the order of business. No one is taking this forward. No one gives a damn. And that is very disheartening indeed. It sends a very loud message to the disabled community. And it’s not a positive one.
|Even the toys are embarrassed for you on this one....|
And why should we expect anything else? Why, when we see images like the one that is currently doing the rounds on social media. You know the one. Yes you do. The one of the House of Commons. The one taken during the recent debate about the effect of welfare reforms on disabled people. The one where, in what can only be described as an epic collective facepalm, hardly anyone bothered to show up. This one. Then in what can only be described as an epic moment of genius, someone decided to splice this with an image of the House of Commons during the debate on MP pay rises. The image where it is packed to the rafters. Standing room only. The contrast is..erm…stark. Awkkkwaaard.
I want to believe this isn’t really a reflection of the interest of politicians in social policy. I want to believe that just out of shot there is a tweed clad assortment of politicians huddling round Vera the tea lady’s trolley due to a BOGOF on bacon butties. I really want to believe that you all care.
You see, I’m not what you think. I’m not bitter. I’m not even that cynical (but give it time). I am not someone who takes an instant dislike to anyone who has the word ‘politician’ on Linked In (do you use Linked In? We should link up). Acutally, I am quite the opposite. I believe that policy can bring about change. I believe that politicians do vitally important jobs. Jobs led by democracy. The thoughts and words of the people. And the multiple blog posts I have read on this topic tell me I am not the only parent carer in this position. So please. All I am asking is one thing. Hear us.
Because ‘that’s the way it is’ is simply not a justification.
‘There’s no budget’ is false economy.
‘It’s not my department’ is not an answer.
Because it’s just not right.
And if it’s the tea thing. Fair play.