A ‘front loaded’ child benefit avoids the financial recognition mothers are campaigning for

As the Wages for Housework Campaign celebrates its 50th anniversary, money for mothers is increasingly on the agenda. 

The think tank Civitas proposes that parents with children under the age of four should be paid £8,000 a year to look after them. See here. This would be done by “frontloading” child benefit, that is more of the total amount over 18 years would be paid when the child is under school age and less when the child is in school. This is presented as a “choice” to mothers. Hardly! There’s no new money, no one can survive on £8,000 a year, and Civitas doesn’t say if single mothers on benefits should get the payment on top and if the benefit cap should be lifted. There is no acknowledgement that mothers at home are working because raising children is work and that this work doesn’t stop when our children begin school. 

Selma James, who launched wages for housework at the women’s liberation conference in Manchester in March 1972, says: 

“Mothers are the primary carers everywhere and deserve financial recognition for the fundamental work of raising children. Instead, we are impoverished. Mothers, and all primary carers, regardless of gender, must be entitled to a care income – a guaranteed income which recognises our contribution to society and enables us to decide when and how we care for our children.” 

Commenting on figures that two third of mothers of small children would prefer to spend more time with them, she added: 

“We are not surprised that so many mothers want to look after their children themselves, especially when they are small, but are forced into full-time jobs by economic need. This is cruel and denies children at their most vulnerable age their right to the person who loves and protects them. As part of our 50th anniversary, we launched an international survey, What do mothers and other carers want, to make visible what we think of how we spend our time, the resources we have and don’t have, and our relationship with the people we care for. We are never asked.”

Make sure your voice is heard and answer the survey here.

The Civitas’s proposal is a far cry from what UK child psychologist Oliver James advocated in his 2007 bestseller Affluenza, that a parent giving up waged work to care for children under three should be paid the national average wage. It is also less generous than the Finnish Home Care Allowance which Civitas mentions and is paid on top of child benefit. Even the recent US government extension of an increased child tax credit (CTC) would have been better: $3,600 a year per child under six, $3,000 per child six to 17. (The extension to CTC which temporarily reduced child poverty by at least 30% was granted as Covid relief for a year – our US network has been pressing for it to be made permanent.)

WFH and the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) it coordinates campaign for financial recognition for all caring work. In 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic we launched an open letter with the Green New Deal for Europe, calling for a care income across the planet for all those, of every gender, who care for people, the urban and rural environment, and the natural world

There is a long history to this demand. 

·       In 1938, Virginia Woolf called for a “living wage to be paid by the State legally to mothers”. 

·       In 1945, after decades of campaigning, former suffragette and independent feminist MP Eleanor Rathbone won family allowances (now child benefit) for mothers, which she saw as a “baby” step towards full financial recognition of their contribution to society.

·       In 1972, US national welfare rights leader Johnnie Tillmon called for women to be paid “a living wage for the work we are already doing – childraising and housekeeping”. 

·       In 1985 and 1995, the WFH Campaign got the UN to agree that governments must measure and value unwaged work “in the home, on the land and in the community” in national accounts. Trinidad &Tobago was first to pass legislation implementing this decision. 

·       A number of time-use surveys and national constitutions followed. Article 88 of Venezuela’s constitution, for example, recognises the contribution of work in the home entitling housewives to social security. 

·       Ireland, whose 1937 constitution included work in the home, is looking to extend this recognition to all carers. 

·       In India, courts and politicians have been calling for cash recognition for women’s unwaged work in the home. 

·       The government of Andhra Pradesh, which supports women’s self-help groups spearheading natural farming that can stop and even reverse climate change, is considering an income for this “work for humanity”.

·       In Thailand, the Community Women’s Human Rights Collective which represents 19 sectors of struggle, campaigns for a care income. 

·        In Peru, unionised domestic workers are demanding payment for caring work “in our home and the home of others”. 

As mothers, especially single mothers, skip meals and/or take up “survival sex” to feed their children, and as climate change wreaks havoc across the world, starting with the Global South, the need to shift priorities and financially reward caring work is more urgent than ever.

For more information contact: Wages for Housework Campaign / Global Women’s Strike: gws@globalwomenstrike.net