November 9, 2003
Europe's dearest country with the worst childcare provisionPosted in · 10 comments ·
The traffic is brutal. You are furious, and the sound of the wipers is getting on your wick. You’re late for the effing creche and you’ve just had a row with your boss. He is 51 going on 12.
You know, the type of spanner who strolls around the office taking imaginary swings – playing `air-golf’ in the same pathetic way he plays sweaty `air guitar’ at the Christmas party. What does he know about trying to be Superwoman, trying to juggle motherhood and marketing managerhood?
After all, his sweet Karen stayed at home to look after his three brats, while he was nobbing around the various committees that double for seniority in this place. What does he know about effing anything with his “If you don’t put in the hours how can you expect to get on?” or his infuriating quotes from the likes of Gary Player, “The more I practice the luckier I get” – we’re selling photocopiers, for Jaysus’ sake!
And, how could you be expected to be on top of things today? Your youngest puked all over the creche and was accused of spreading germs to the other snotty three-year-olds.
What’s more, her younger brother bit another child and you had to spend half an hour apologising to that supercilious antipodean cow who runs `little langers creche’, or whatever it’s called.
All this executed secretively on the phone, hoping no one could hear you when you were supposed to be devising the latest poxy `customer satisfaction brochure’.
Your head’s splitting and then the boss pulls an urgent meeting on you at ten to five, with the unforgivable line, “Tidy yourself up, he’s a very important client, you know”.
How do you get out of this? All you can think of is the faces of your two neglected kids, last again in the creche, waiting forlornly at the door, coats buttoned up, pining for useless mammy.You look at him, in his cheap, ill-fitting off-the-peg suit, belly protruding, bad shoes, and he talks about tidying up?
“Sorry, John, I can’t, I’ve something social planned”, trying to sound like Carrie Bradshaw, offhand and glamorous, as if you have a life. Then comes the lecture. You try to remain c al m but someth ing g ives, the dreaded out-of-body experience, and you explode. He realises it is serious and tries to defuse the situation with the no-no of all no-nos: he mentions your `time of the month’.
Somebody screams across the open-plan office in the loudest, angriest screech you’ve ever heard: “You stupid prick”. Poor girl, you think.The your spirit comes back out of the ether into your body. Oh God! No! It’s me!
Everyone runs for cover, nobody catches your eye as you dash for the door. Ignition,wipers, drive time show … you are halfway round the Green before you burst into tears.
Irish working mothers suffer the double whammy of living in the most expensive country in Europe with the worst childcare provision. For the socalled productive heart of the economy, childcare is the single biggest issue on the agenda. If we do not have kids the race will die out. There will be no one to pay our pensions.There will be no one to live in our dormitory towns in 20 years’ time. In the near term, an entire generation of jaded grandads and grannies is expected to fill the void the state has left. If you go to any park in suburban Dublin tomorrow afternoon, you will see Granny looking after little Johnny, while Mam and Dad are stuck in the traffic. Cunningly, the state knows that blood is thicker than water and most grannies and grandads will say `yes’.
This week, an OECD report on childcare in Ireland, Austria and Japan, entitled Bosses and Babies, pulls no punches. We are so far behind the rest of Europe in so many areas that it is hard to know where to start.
But let’s begin with a story I heard on George Hook’s show on Newstalk 106 recently. A woman who employs 11 people exposed the dilemma quite clearly. Three of her employees have one child each in creches. If any one of them has an extra child, she will have to let them go because she would not be able to afford to pay them a wage that would cover the cost of an extra place at the creche. So the choice for the mother is obvious.
This is a ludicrous situation. The OECD says that the crux of the problem is that “the Irish female labour market behaviour has changed dramatically and is intrinsically linked with a rapidly expanding service sector and buoyant Irish economic growth in the latter part of the 1990s.
“The female employment rate has increased by 15 percentage points since 1994, and employment rates of womenaged25-29 (almost 80per cent) are now higher than in [Austria and Japan] and are double that of Irish women of the same age 20 years ago.”
Add to this individualisation and much higher educational levels of women, and we should be facing an unprecedented era of prosperity for women.Yet we are stuck.
The problem for many women can be compounded by guilt. Even if they can afford a place in the creche, studies tell them that the child will be negatively affected by non-parental childcare.
One of the interesting aspects of the OECD report highlights the fact that although married Irish mothers are at work in huge numbers, single mothers are not. The report says: “Despite the buoyant economy, employment rates among single parents are about half as high in Ireland as in Austria and Japan, where more than 80 per cent of single parents work.
“The result is that some single parents spend long periods on social benefits, and their children sometimes grow up in poverty and social exclusion with no working role models. Lone parents of very young children need early and active support, including childcare, to go to work . . .”
And what about fathers? The OECD highlights the long hours culture as being common to all three countries. But spare a thought for the poor Japanese dad. “Three-fifths of Japanese men work over 43 hours, two-fifths work 49 hours or more, while one in five Japanese men put in over 60 hours per week.
“Japanese men with non-working wives contribute a mere 13 minutes to daily housework and care. As a comparison, in Austria this is about 2.5 hours per day”.
The report suggests that although blokes talk the talk they don’t walk the walk, and mothers shoulder most of the responsibility.
The issue is affordable childcare. We have the most expensive and inadequate childcare in Europe.The solution is to provide state (or subsidised private) childcare from the age of two, much in the same way as the national school system kicks in at four.
Otherwise those people who make up the productive core of the economy will drive each other round the bend in a constant juggling whirlwind of creche, collect, work, pick-up, traffic, drop the kids, work, mortgage, school-run, work, meetings, grannies, work, exhausted, shout, scream, Calpol, sleepless nights,work . . .