Working Mothers Can Harm Families, Warns Archbishop

Daily Mail (London), September 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Working Mothers Can Harm Families, Warns Archbishop


Byline: JAMES SLACK;DAN NEWLING

THE Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday condemned 'family unfriendly' policies which send new mothers back to work.

In a passionate plea to 'let children be children', Dr Rowan Williams struck a blow to the heart of Labour's policies on childcare.

He said that instead of looking at what would be best for the child, the focus was on returning women to the workplace.

'While that is about giving women professional choices, there is cost involved as well - maybe we have not weighted that fully enough,' he added.

The Archbishop's remarks were interpreted as a criticism of Labour's obsession with working mothers.

He said there was a 'big issue' over whether women should return to the workplace. In some cases it could be 'family unfriendly'.

'Allowing families to work more flexibly ought to work for the good of a family.

'The trouble is that very often it is presented or understood primarily just in terms of getting women back to the workplace.'

Dr Williams warned that there is an 'enormous problem' with modern childhood, as the young are targeted by advertisers and retailers.

The 'root of the difficulty', he said, 'very often is to do with our shared unwillingness, in our culture, to let children be children for long enough'.

Since 1997 the Government has poured billions of pounds into subsidising nurseries and childminders through the taxcredit system, direct daycare benefits and the Sure Start project, set up to help the neediest families.

Persuading mothers to go back to work soon after their children are born has been a central policy.

Three years ago, the Department of Trade and Industry, then headed by Patricia Hewitt, published a paper describing those who do not return to jobs in the first two years after childbirth as a 'problem'.

It said mothers who stayed at home were not giving the taxpayer a return on the cost of their education.

Earlier this year, the education department boasted that a record of more than 700,000 children were in nurseries for more than four hours a day.

The Government has also set Voicing concerns: Dr Rowan Williams targets for increasing taxpayer- subsidised childcare places, burdening industry with more 'flexible working' red tape, putting more women into quango posts and increasing the number of women in top Civil Service jobs.

Robert Whelan, deputy director of the Civitas think-tank, said Gordon Brown's taxcredit scheme was part of the problem described by Dr Williams.

He said: 'It is described as a tax credit, but it is actually a benefit.

'The catch is that it is only available to those who go back to work, in the case of mothers for 16 hours a week.'

Norman Wells, of Family and Youth Concern, said: 'A proper public debate on the impact of daycare on the welfare of children is long overdue.

'The Archbishop is therefore right to raise questions about this issue, but he is overoptimistic in suggesting that it is only family-unfriendly in "some cases" when mothers of young children return to work.

'Research shows that daycare is associated with significant levels of stress in children and has a damaging effect on their behaviour and their social and emotional development.

'Given the choice, the majority of mothers would prefer to stay at home and look after their children before they reach school age.' The Archbishop's aides said his ideas had been influenced by Sue Gerhardt, a child psychologist and the author of Why Love Matters - How Affection Shapes the Baby's Brain. …

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