I wrote most of the following post around three weeks ago, and was always intending to go back and finish it. I thought it might be an opportune time after seeing a related item on the news tonight.
A neonatal paediatrician is warning parents to do all they can to avoid putting their young children in daycare
, saying it could permanently harm their developing brains. Dr Simon Rowley advocates for a parent to stay home with children in the early years if they can. He cites research looking at the hormone cortisol that found 80% of children in daycare become more stressed during the day, with toddlers showing the highest levels of stress.
Early Childhood Council
chief executive Sarah Farquhar has taken issue with Dr Rowley ."It's going back to the times of women being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. That's not healthy for children and it's not healthy for women . . . making parents feel guilty about their choices is not the way to go."
The Early Childhood Council also happens to be protecting its market - as an organisation representing private childcare centres. Kids are their source of cash.
Now its possible that Dr Rowley is running a socially conservative agenda here, particularly when he blames the social policies of Helen Clark, and many social conservatives demonise Clark. Yet to leave the issue there I think does the left a disservice, as it may leave empty political ground for socially conservative politicians if the left is not seen to be engaging with the issues in a deeper way.
What got me thinking about this was a very interesting discussion during the Blackball May Day celebrations earlier this year. We looked at the legacy of neo-liberalism in New Zealand, with a focus on its affect on family life.
I am greatly thankful to my fellow participants for helping me think about the issues in new ways.
The Blackball Working Class History Project now has a blog
This year I attended the May Day celebrations in Blackball. It was an enjoyable and engaging weekend. As 2008 was the 100th anniversary of the famous Blackball miners strike, the numbers were smaller in 2009, but this allowed the issues to be covered in greater depth.
On the Saturday morning a forum was held on The Legacy of Neo-Liberalism. Many people prepared provocations for the forum in order to start the discussion. Rather than focus on economics and the undemocratic nature of how neo-liberalism was forced on the electorate, many people spoke of the legacy of neo-liberalism on families and family life.
It is great to see many of these contributions from the forum now appearing online. Paul Manuder has written a rundown of the weekend
and others highlighted the punative attitude of many government departments."I’ve got a friend in Greymouth who cares for her baby granddaughter, her ten year old son and her suicidal adult son. Can someone tell me why this woman, this mother, grandmother, carer of our most vulnerable, is being badgered by WINZ to get paying employment?"
I believe part of the explanation for this lies with the Social Security Amendment Act passed by the last Labour Government. This Act changed the whole purpose of the Act
famously passed by Michael Joseph Savage in 1938. Rather than a focus on the welfare of the community, the focus came on getting a job - any job - as the only legitimate form of social assistance. I suggested Savage would be turning in his grave if he knew about these changes.
To return to the focus on the impact of neo-liberalism on family life, it was interesting that many saw the lack of family time due to financial pressure as a key problem. For example, a local teacher, Te Whaea Ireland saw many children with a desperate need for one on one contact with adults. Sandra summarised Te Whaea's comments like this
"Parents love their children but the children are stressed. Families are stressed through everyone working long hours to survive economically. Children are arriving at school earlier, then there’s after school care, there’s no adult with the time to help with homework, no time for mooching- that stress-free space which generates self management, relatedness, creativity etc. The family is no longer functioning as a nurturing unit. She saw among her peer group, the stress in terms of a young couple trying to acquire a home and to have a family. She saw the traditional homemaker, once gender equality is accepted, as a valid and vital role in society."
It ought to be stressed that Te Whaea was not advocating a socially conservative agenda, as she assumes the acceptance of gender equity. Freedom and equity should aim to give people greater choices. The issue is that due to financial pressure parents no longer have the choice whether they wish to work OR be a homemaker.
Essentially, over the past 50 years employers have used the rightful work aspirations of women to halve 'real' family incomes - double incomes are now required to raise families in most cases. The Employment Contracts Act made the situation worse. I do not wish to go back to the 1950s here - what I am highlighting is how New Zealand employers and their right wing friends have used this societal change to their own economic advantage.
In terms of policy responses the following might be a useful starting point. The challenge of the left is not only to announce such policies but to demonstrate how they are relevant to the issues currently facing families. I am not sure the left has done so yet, or as effectively as it might.
- A new industrial relations framework which delivers a fairer share of company profits to families (the new Australian legislation might be worth looking at - particularly if we are serious about a real CER that is not limited to just what the business community wants)
- A minimum wage set at two thirds of the average wage (sign the Unite petition)
- Universal Basic Income (which would recognise the currently unpaid work of homemakers)
- A year or more of paid parental leave.
- More research on children's experiences on daycare - are there ways to make it less stressful and more confortable for the kids?
I very much welcome comments on this post, as I feel as if I am still working out the issues as I go.
During the Blackball forum I also suggested that the Clark Labour Government may be seen by future historians as playing a key role in embedding neo-liberalism as it deliberately avoided changing any of the neo-liberal legislation or the aggressive 'free trade' policies of the forth Labour Government. Despite the country voting left in 1999, the Reserve Bank Act, the Public Finance Act, the State Sector Act and a strict orthodoxy of 'balanced budgets' remained. Even after nine years. Indeed it is significant that in his valedictory speech the former Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen spoke of his pride in pursuing free trade agreements and maintaining a socially progressive but fiscally conservative
I respected Cullen's intellect and his wit a great deal, but I always thought his views on the inevitability and the desirability of the WTO
version of the global market were simply pollyanna. While he did renationalise the railways, this was only after costing the country millions by entering into a failed public-private partnership with Toll Holdings in 2004
. In 2003 he had the opportunity buy the railways on the cheap and to tell Toll to noddy off, but did not do so.
Labels: building the left, education, Labour, low wages, Neo-liberalism, social justice