Recognising the vital, unpaid work that secures our future

How much are caregivers of the young worth to an ageing society? In the years to come, a growing demographic of retired baby boomers will be evermore reliant on the willingness and ability of the younger population to support them.

More than ever, we need support for those who are performing one of society’s most important roles. We should not dismiss parenting –  and motherhood – simply as a biological function, and we should not buy into the narrative that only those who can afford it should do it.

We should consider it for what it really is – a challenging job that must be done well to have positive outcomes – and celebrate the work of those who provide the foundations for future generations of leaders, educators, financiers, healthcare professionals, tradespeople, creative minds and innovators. Often this job is done under the harshest of conditions, as circumstances can negate a parent’s ability to provide financially, and to bear up under the strain of life’s constant pressures. No-one is immune to life’s challenges and there is always the chance that one day, need for support will arise. A well-designed system of welfare that reduces the tax burden on families and reduces the risk of hardship is important to our present and future generations, and to our economy.

The role of parenting is often one that is lonely, relentless and unforgiving. It is unpaid and unrecognised in GDP calculations as a contribution to the economy. But it is hard work and it is vital work, often done without much in the way of support. The added burden of poverty can be detrimental to the health of the parents and of their children, and the impacts can be long lasting.

Financial support that families receive to raise their children acknowledges this valuable parenting role. Working for Families tax credits – an update of previous child-related tax credits in New Zealand – provide support for parents to do their job well, so that all children can have the chance to flourish. That investment by the State recognises the value of parenting for society.

In New Zealand, the tax credits are targeted to low-income families. Instead of debating as to whether they are a subsidy to employers that allows them to pay lower wages – should we not be debating whether they are adequate as subsidies for the unpaid caregiving that goes on in the home? Should we not be asking why welfare beneficiaries raising young children are suffering the most severe hardship? Isn’t one factor that they are denied the full package of tax credits because they aren’t in ‘paid work’?

What’s wrong with the work they are doing at home?

We should ensure parents can choose whether they go back to paid work early or stay at home to raise their babies, with neither choice resulting in hardship. It should not be the norm to feel like there’s no other choice but to return to the paid workforce, when children are very young, or suffer poverty. We should all be advocating for better, much more adequate family support.

Tax credits and benefits aren’t currently up to the standard of providing adequately. Benefits have been cut and become stagnated, tax credits have been allowed to erode through lack of annual increases and outright cuts, while every extra dollar a family earns over current thresholds reduces their benefits and tax credits far too sharply.

The recent changes will go only so far to helping those most in need.

In 2018 CPAG wants to see policy-makers and politicians reform the welfare system so that it is fit for families in the 21st century.  That reform should be based on principles of compassion and caring, and the real needs of families, without stressful over-emphasis on paid work, and punitive, corrective methodologies. Parents - especially sole parents - should know that their society values their role and demonstrates that with sustaining and secure material support.