I recently read an article about how Britain is facing a ‘Baby Shortage’ which is predicted to lead to ‘economic stagnation’ due to the fact there will be an increase in the amount of people retired vs the amount of people in work. An aging population, a decline in the amount of births, I suppose, means less products for the machine to keep the economy going. You can read the whole article via The Guardian and the reports from Social Market Foundation Thinktank who are trying to think of ways to encourage people to have children. It’s comparing data since the 1960’s post war baby boom to today and predicting by 2050, a quarter of Britons will be 65+ and either working less or retired (if, by that point, we can actually afford to stop working). Suggestions include improving childcare as it can be very unaffordable, and creating a cross government taskfosk to improve pronatalist policies to improve the amount of children per woman back to 2.1 which helps keep the economy at a ‘stable level’ apparently. So what should they do? What would encourage you to have more children or start a family? What puts you off?
What the government should NOT do under any circumstance
Do Not Ban Abortions
I am fully supportive of women that want or need to have safe abortions for whatever reason they choose. I do not believe in banning abortions under any circumstance. This would be an awful suggestion following in the footsteps of the US which has seen more and more states increase abortion bans. This is a violation of womens rights and bodily autonomy. It is a possibly I am sure many ministers would approve but I would hope that the majority of MP’s would oppose such a horrific proposal. Everyone deserves the option to seek safe medical care and that includes the allowance of abortions. Having children is a lifechanging decision and the reasons women have abortions are varied, can be complex and, quite frankly are no one else’s business. This will not help improve things but instead it will see more children in care, more children in foster homes and, more peri and post natal mental health issues.
Continue raising taxes and national insurance for low income workers
The recent tax and national insurance hike will dramatically affect a couple’s want to start a family. Now there is the two children limit on benefits, bedroom tax and minimum wage not near enough a genuine living wage having children is more expensive than ever. I’ll touch on childcare later on in this post but childcare provisions for low income workers in receipt of Universal Credit doesn’t start until the child is two years three months, yet statutory maternity pay ends at 9 months. Wages aren’t going up fast enough but the cost of living is rising expotentially. Many women make a tough choice about returning to work before their child is one and the money earned to childcare ratio is simply not good enough and with employers not willing to consider part time, job share and flexi working its a real problem. And it’s not just childcare either, it’s the donations to nurseries and schools, the uniform, the bags, the shoes, the food…it all costs money. Some people can’t afford to have children, some don’t want to have children until their in a much more stable place financially, and that’s often older. Some people just don’t want children at all, and some parents are just happy to have the one because that completes their family or, they may have had to access fertility treatment and can’t afford or can’t go through the process again. The same way many women choose to have abortions, many couples and women choose not to have children and this needs to be respected. However, it can’t be ignored that lack of financial stability is a factor when deciding to start a family.
What things would genuinely help to improve couples wanting to expand and increase their families?
The think tank was not wrong suggesting better childcare would help improve the birthrate. Childcare is expensive and as I said above there is a shortfall of help from the end of maternity leave to the start of government funded hours. I believe tax free childcare might help some parents if the workplace is signed on to the scheme but personally I have never found that to be particularly competitive when working a full time job as it does not even nearly cover the amount of hours needed to enroll a child in full time nursery. Potentially it could help cover costs if you have grandparents help but it works out at every £8 you pay for childcare, the government would pay £2. Childcare is around £55-60 per day in my local area, that’s approx £1,300 per month. A tax free £500 every three months might help but it certainly isn’t good enough. For those on benefits the assistance with childcare and claim up to 85% of your childcare costs depending on income. So in retrospect for lower income workers there is help out there but there is also a lot of shame and stigma around claiming benefits and there are a lot of hoops to jump through in order to get the amount entitled to.
I think funded hours should be brought in for working parents much earlier than two years three months (low income) and three years three months (everyone else) to make it more affordable, rather than the tax free childcare scheme which on paper doesn’t really look very helpful.
Maternity, Paternity & Adoption Leave Improvements
Statutory leave for parents is awful, particularly for new dads or partners eligible for paternity leave. It’s a reduction in pay and a lot of pressure for parents to get back to work straight away. I would like to see maternity leave increased from nine months to twelve months and the pay increased to a full wage for the first six months and reduced to 85% (the current stat pay) from six to twelve months. Paternity leave should be extended to a minimum of six weeks and should be paid at full pay for the first two weeks and at 85% for the remaining four weeks. Those initial six weeks at home with your newborn are crucial for bonding, establishing breastfeeding, adjusting to new family life and offering your partner much needed support.
Birth can be beautiful but it can also be traumatic and 25% of first time births happen via c-section ie. major abdominal surgery which takes 12 weeks to fully recover from. At day ten when Adam went back to work I was still struggling to move around, get myself out of the bath and lay comfortably in bed. Recovery time varies but I bet I’d recover a lot better if I hadn’t had to do a 40 minute school run, and try and look after all of us whilst my partner worked nights and attended university. I know our circumstances were unique but I felt a lot of pressure to recover quickly despite having complex surgery, loosing a lot of blood and having a newborn to look after not to mention all the post natal feelings. We talk alot about increasing breast feeding support, something I really struggled with, but perhaps if partners were at home to help for six weeks then mothers could establish breastfeeding and we’d see those statistics raise too because they could just focus on that rather than the home, the school run, and all the other things that are expected of the parent that stays home.
I understand that new government plans are enabling workers to ask for flexible working from day one, and if anything this pandemic has taught us that parents can work flexibly, from home, around homeschooling, during a time of national crisis. However, I just don’t see all employers allowing it to happen despite the cost effectiveness flexi working can bring both employers and workers. Honestly, it has a really good affect on morale, productivity, helps cut carbon emissions, office costs etc however flexi working does not mean a lack of pay because when you work from home you’re transferring energy costs back to the worker. But Flexible working doesn’t just mean having to work from home. It could be changing the traditional working week, introducing job shares. Pregnant then screwed is a great campaigning website to help parents get fair treatment and rights post starting a family in the workplace particularly if you’ve faced parental or maternity discrimination.
Recent research has suggested that a 4 day working week offers the same amount of productivity, in some cases more, as a five day working week. Adam does a 4 on 4 off shift basis and it has dramatically improved our family life because even though he works nights and the first day off he’s really tired, he has enough time at home to adjust and actually feel like he has some consistent time away from work. I think more research was done to show employees reach peak efficient performance at six hours, so an eight+ hour working day isn’t getting people to be more productive, it probably makes them clockwatch all that bit more. There are plenty of chances to offer flexibility in the work place and I genuinely think if workers weren’t afraid to ask for a flexible work schedule – because employers think flexible = lazy/not productive/inability to manage priorities (I mean, they really couldn’t be more wrong here) – we would have more people wanting to have a family without threat of their jobs being compromised. Oh, and this absolutely HAS to incorporate a realistic living wage, better maternity/paternity benefits and childcare provision.
Inability to access fertility treatments and have the time off employment to do this
For LGTBQTIA+ couples and Cis couples that require fertility treatments there is a bit of inquality here. Fertility appointments can take time and can be invasive and painful requiring time away from the workplace and, for some couples, they can be incredibly expensive. I can’t comment too much here because it’s not an area I am experienced in but this type of access needs to be improved and employers need to be able to discuss this with workers with compassion and sensitivity. Again, a realistic living wage would help with the financial stress particularly if time off is needed.
Saving for a first house deposit vs starting a family
One other thing I think is worth mentioning is the fact that it takes a long time to save for a deposit on a house these days. Not everyone is lucky enough to get financial support from family for their first mortgage or can live with parents enabling them to save the funds. It sort of feels like you either save for a deposit on a house and then plan a family or if you want a family first, you rent. Saving money as you rent and raise children is not easy especially without a realistic living wage. People are choosing to have babies later on in their life and getting their career sorted and buying a home will probably be on many people’s priority list.
Save Our Planet vs starting a family
Another thing I think it’s worth mentioning is it isn’t just the financial cost of raising children that people are considering these days. Those that care about climate change are very seriously concerned about a growing, aging global population. Raising a child also increases your carbon footprint and waste. Being perfectly green is incredibly hard and even more so when having children. A growing population is a real cause for concern as it means more green spaces will be destroyed for housing, more animals killed for food, more waste from nappies, more plastics in use, and so on. The government are not serious enough about the importance of climate change and these are real worries and real concerns that people have when we only have one planet.
Whatever the case, starting a family, raising children is expensive. It’s also an incredibly personal decision and not something that should ever be forced on people. The cost of living is rising, and the cost of raising a child raising with it. If the government want more workers in work in the future then they need to provide potential parents with fair working regulations and financial security. Rent needs to be affordable for bigger homes, because buying a home is becoming increasingly difficult as finding £20,000+ is not easy whilst you’re having to pay out for rent and bills. Comparing data from the 60’s to today seems a little weird to me because society is completely different. The 40 hour working week that has become the norm today was designed so that one person could stay home to raise the children. Now, financial commitments mean that, on average, one wage is not enough money to live and raise a family on.