CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Payments to Parents

Sep 28, 1993

A new proposal to pay parents of young children $50 a week to stay at home is worth exploring. Queensland Labor backbencher, Mr Gary Johns, has recently come up with the proposal which would encourage the second wage earner to stay at home.

The proposal is part of a paper Mr Johns submitted to the Prime Minister Mr Keating in response to calls for ideas for the Labor party’s fifth-term agenda. The proposal calls for the $50 pay-out to supplement the existing Family Allowance, available to families with children aged up to four.

In principal the scheme is worth examining. The current system discriminates against mums who want to stay at home while rewarding those who enter the paid work force.

A major new study to be released next month echoes this conviction. Says its author, Barry Maley, “Present federal policy on provision of child-care subsidies is a glaring example of the injustice, partiality and pandering to special interests that characterises the treatment of families. These subsidies are explicitly based on favouring and supporting labour market participation by mothers of young children.”

Real choice should be available to women as to whether they stay at home or not. The $50 scheme is a step in the right direction in that it would deter the conscription of women into the paid workforce.

Study after study shows that most mothers of young children would prefer to stay at home but economic necessity forces them out. A recent ANU study – just one of many recently taken – shows that 70 per cent of the respondents preferred that mothers remain at home with pre-school children.

But tough economic times, coupled with discriminatory economic and fiscal policy is forcing mothers into the paid workforce. A recent Family Circle survey found that 86 per cent of mothers agreed that economic pressures were driving women into the job market. Mr Johns’ proposal acknowledges the fact that most parents would prefer to care for their children at home if it were financially possible. Also it would in theory free up the job market for the traditional bread winner and unemployed young people.

The $50 figure proposed by Mr Johns however is demeaning to women. Even unemployed youth get $100 a week.

The value of a woman’s work at home is surely much greater. A study undertaken by Dr Duncan Ironmonger for example estimates that unpaid work – usually performed by women – represents about half of all employment; about one third of the true gross national product; about 80% of all welfare; and perhaps about 90% of all education.

A respectable amount should be paid which will not only make staying at home economically viable, but would give real recognition to the value of work performed in the home.

The Australian Family Association has long been making similar calls to that of Mr Johns. However the aim is not to bribe or coerce women into staying at home. The aim is to provide women with genuine choice. Economic conditions should exist which would make it equally appealing for a woman to stay at home if she prefers as it would be to enter the paid workforce. Economic justice and real choice is the goal of such proposals.

The MP’s proposal is in principle a welcome step in acknowledging the real worth of work performed in the home. It is hoped that Mr Keating takes such a proposal seriously.

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