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Live webchat with shadow family minister Maria Miller, Thurs 17 July.

(50 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Jul-08 11:57:44

Maria Miller, shadow minister for the family, is joining us for a live webchat this Thursday between 1pm and 2pm, to chat about work-life balance from an MP's perspective.

Maria, who has three children, had a high-profile career in marketing, advertising and PR before becoming Conservative MP for Basingstoke in 2005. You can read more about her life on her website.

If you can't make it on the day but have something you'd like to ask Maria, please post your questions in advance here. Otherwise, see you Thursday.

artichokes Tue 15-Jul-08 12:37:09

Can I just check whether she is coming to talk about the Opposition's policies towards families or to talk about work-life balance from an MP's perspective (its just those are two very different things)?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Jul-08 12:52:48

Work-life balance from an MP's perspective to tie in with Home Front. But I'm sure she'll try to cover other topics if you have specific questions.

artichokes Tue 15-Jul-08 13:09:34

Thanks. So is she basically coming to tell us what it is like to juggle being an MP and a Mum? The questions I would like to ask are all about what concrete proposals the Conservatives have to tackle work life balance if they get into power.

ShadowyMariaMiller Tue 15-Jul-08 13:11:28

ey geraldine
you didn make the william gray error did you?! grin

MariaMillar Tue 15-Jul-08 13:50:44


ShadowyMariaMiller Tue 15-Jul-08 13:51:00


lalaa Tue 15-Jul-08 14:00:39

OK, I have one.

How does she balance supporting her children at school (I'm presuming at least one of them must be there), for example, reading with them every day, with working as an MP? Does she help out at school (by listening to readers, for example, or by actively participating in the PTA)?

I ask this because there is, imo, a fundamental tension between how we can work (eg the vast majority of middle/senior management jobs are full time) with the support we need to give to our children. I live rurally, so there is no after school club, there are no childminders in the village. We have been told very clearly by the school that they do not have the time to read as much as they need to with children and that we should take up that slack. Important meetings this year regarding how the school teaches literacy and numeracy were held in school time, and the information not disseminated to those parents who were unable to attend.

I am interested in politics, and worked in a policy role at a quango when I first graduated (which I loved) but I took a fundamental decision within a year of starting that there was no way that I could stay in that career if I wanted to be able to be there for my children. I don't think I'm cut out to be an MP, but I'd love to have the choice and be able to maintain support for my 5 year old. I now work in marketing which doesn't set my world on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but it pays enough to cover us, and is flexible enough (because I work for myself) for me to be able to be there for my dd at the end of the school day. I struggle every day to get myself motivated to work because I'd prefer to be doing something more stimulating but it just is not possible.

What would conservative policy be regarding tax credits - do you plan to abolish them? What would you put in their place? Would that be equitable to all families with children, not just ones where the parents happen to be married?

I feel this is relevant as tax credits are the only way that I can afford to work as a single parent with three children. I do not want my children to be financially disadvantaged compared to children in families with two parents.

If you accept that there are still high levels of relative child poverty in this country compared to the rest of Europe, what does the conservative party plan to do to alleviate child poverty?

I appreciate that this isn’t all-together to do with Maria Millers work/life balance, but expect that she will have a lot of support (husband? Nanny? Au Pair? ) that just isn’t available to the average Joanne working two minimum wage jobs to keep a roof over her head. I don’t see that much relevance to my own experience to be honest.

artichokes Tue 15-Jul-08 15:16:53

That is my point exactly Snape. I am very interested in what alternatives to current policy the Opposition has for families. I am less interested in the work life balance of an MP.

Despite MM saying being an MP is very hard as a mother I am not convinced. It seems easier than most full time professional careers. I don't begrude her that, it is good that being an MP affords you perks that allow mothers to get involved, but please can she not pretnend those perks do not exist and that she understand the challenges the average working mother faces? Lets remember that as an MP she gets:
- Over one third of the year with no mandatory duties at all (this year the Commons will not sit for 18 weeks of the year. All its weeks off broadly conincide with school holidays although they also extend further than school holidays)
- Most Fridays without Commons duties (the Commons worked on less that 50% of Fridays this year)
- Flexible mornings for school meetings etc(the Commons does not start business until 2.30pm Mon-Weds)
- A family home in her constituency and a family home in London paid for by the tax payer
- A salary of over £60k plus numerous allowances to maintain her home.
- No line manager monitoring her every move.

Katisha Tue 15-Jul-08 15:54:13

I would like to see MPs leading by example though. Someone I know works in govt and the ministers seem to think nothing of calling early morning meetings, late evening meetings etc. So much for this person who has kids and a commute - not a vast amount of opportunity to see the kids.

I think we need a change of long hours culture in the workplace and govt could try to lead by example.

We found the worklife balance impossible to achieve within the UK. Which is why we currently live in Belgium.

In the UK my DH had an appalling commute and was expected to be in the office from as early as possible and rarely leaving before 8pm. This meant he rarely returned home in time to see dds.

We find on the continent you are not expected to work silly hours in order to prove how good/committed you are. Everybody takes a full hour for lunch and they leave the office. It is generally a healthier environment - working to live rather than living to work.

I would like to know what Maria thinks of the way we work in the UK and if we should become more like the continent. It would surely improve our productivity and health, as well as making life easier for people with children.

myredcardigan Tue 15-Jul-08 21:51:51

I would like to ask what Maria thinks of the proposal that both parents could split the current statutory maternity leave between them. Perhaps mum having a mandatory 6wks then both partners using it how best fits their lifestyle/income breakdown.

My husband works for a large law firm. I know for a fact they're careful how many women of 'child-bearing' age they take on. If they thought a 30yr old man was just as likely to take 6mths off as his female co-worker this would help reduce discrimination in the workplace.

I think this is very relevant to family work/life balance. Often families could live on one wage if it was Mum's, allowing Dad to SAH. Currently that choice is not open to them.

LittleBella Wed 16-Jul-08 09:06:36

Maria I am a lone parent and I work 20 hours a week. With tax credits that means I am able to have a good work life balance, enough time to help my children with homework, reading, emotional needs etc. and pursue an interesting and fulfilling job.

As I understand it, the Tories want to force all lone parents whose children are at secondary school (or is it 7) to work 30 hours per week.

Can you tell me why it is the state's business to tell me how many hours to work? I understand that if I am claiming tax credits, the state might have the right to have some say in my work life balance, but if you are going to abolish tax credits and all I have to live on is my wages, then surely it is my decision to say whether I am prepared to sacrifice money for time, quality of life, and emotional health of my children? Since when have the tories been so interventionist? Or is it just with us feckless lone mothers that it considers such intervention so necessary?

cmotdibbler Wed 16-Jul-08 09:27:10

I think that all working mums would love to have a full time, live in nanny to make their lives run, but thats just not an option for even the above average Joanne, once wages, tax, NI, and a house big enough for someone else to live in is accounted for. My DS is a preschooler, so at the moment he is in a full time day nursery and I only have to worry about someone to drop him off and pick him up - but once he's at school it will be a nightmare to find wrap around and holiday care. Currently in my area, the only possible option will be to send him to an independant school, all of whom seem to realise that parents work - but I can't even get the sort of tax breaks that I do for his childcare now for that.

What are Marias proposals to improve out of school hours care, and ensure that they are affordable ?

hunkermunker Wed 16-Jul-08 11:11:26

How soon after you had your children did yuou return to work and did your finances have a bearing on your decision?

I ask because responses from my MP seem to suggest that the fact that women get SMP means that they can take the full year to which they are entitled off work, when in my experience and that of most of my friends, that's cloud cuckoo land. This in turn means all the Government recommendations regarding eg breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months become unnecessarily difficult.

Porpoise Wed 16-Jul-08 11:36:20

Do you 'schedule' in time to see your children? I imagine you're always in the Commons when they get home from school/go to bed.

And what does your other half do? Does he help with the childcare?

Maternaltouch Thu 17-Jul-08 12:31:16

Holiday Playschemes, certainly in my area of Derbyshire are thin on the ground and very expensive, especially if you have more than one child. They also only go up to age 12. Do the Tories have any plans to impose statutory provision for affordable childcare onto local councils?

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jul-08 13:00:43

Hi all,
Maria is in the building and will be with us in a few mins.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jul-08 13:08:55

Hi everyone, and welcome to Maria Miller, who'll try to answer as many of your questions as possible over the next hour. While Maria gets settled in and we grab our sandwiches, here are Maria's answers to some of the questions you've already posted.

How does she balance supporting her children at school (I'm presuming at least one of them must be there), for example, reading with them every day, with working as an MP? Does she help out at school (by listening to readers, for example, or by actively participating in the PTA)? Lalaa

Lalaa, good question. It isn’t easy. The hours can be very long, especially when the house is sitting very late into the night. I think Parliament could be reformed so the hours are more family-friendly. This I think would actually help encourage more women to come into Parliament. At the moment, the number of women in Parliament is embarrassingly low, particularly if you look at other countries in Europe where the number of men and women is nearly equal. In my only party, only 17 MPs are women. Shocking. But it is changing - the number of women candidates we have in place for the next election is very high. That’s great because we need more working mothers here in parliament.

We have holidays once in a while when the house is not sitting. They’re very similar to school holidays, happening at Christmas, Easter and Summer. They are called recess. So I try and spend as much time with my children as possible during recess. When the house is sitting, I try and ring all of my children at the end of their school day. My husband is a city lawyer so he works very long hours too. Luckily, we have live-in grandparents who are the best form of childcare, and an au pair. I know that a lot of parents can’t afford such help and that is why I think it is important we make childcare as affordable as possible.

What concrete proposals do the Conservatives have to tackle work- life balance if they get into power? Artichokes

Artichokes, thanks for your question. Getting the right work-life balance is a real concern for most families in Britain today. Many parents want to and have to juggle having a job with looking after a family. That is why I really want to encourage businesses to adopt family-friendly practices. Those businesses that allow their employees to work flexibly know how beneficial it is for their workers, but also for their company. They retain the best people and have a happier, more productive workforce. 94% of employers agree that those employees who have a good work-life balance are more productive.

I believe more companies should be giving their employees flexible working arrangements. We’ve called for the right to request flexible working to be extended to all parents with children under the age of 18.

Do you think MPs should lead by example? Someone I know works in govt and the ministers seem to think nothing of calling early morning meetings, late evening meetings etc. I think we need a change of long hours culture in the workplace and it should start from the top Katisha

Katisha, absolutely. As long as my staff do the work and do their hours, I am reasonably flexible with their starting and finishing times so they get the work-life balance they need. Other people have been asking questions about our long hours culture compared to the rest of Europe. The statistics certainly substantiate this. We work on average just over an hour longer a week than the EU-27 average. Over a year, an average British employee will work 8% longer than a French employee. Some jobs probably require long hours. But I think we need to be careful of presenteeism - the phenomenon whereby employees just stick around without having work to do. That’s unhealthy.

How soon after you had your children did you return to work and did your finances have a bearing on your decision? I ask because responses from my MP seem to suggest that the fact that women get SMP means that they can take the full year to which they are entitled off work, when in my experience and that of most of my friends, that's cloud cuckoo land. This in turn means all the Government recommendations regarding eg breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months become unnecessarily difficult. Hunkermumker

Hunkermumker, yes, with all of my three children I returned to work months after giving birth, largely because of financial necessity. I’m sure this is the case with most women out there. There isn’t a choice about being a careerist or a stay-at-home mum; you have to do both, full stop. Nearly half of all mothers return to the workplace within 6 months of having a child. I am very sympathetic to the fact that Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) may not provide the level of income required to meet the cost of living. That is why it is so important that women have the option of flexible jobs so women can juggle home life with earning a decent wage.

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:12:10

Hmmm. How comes Hunker gets her question answered before mine?


LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:18:36


MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:18:38

Hi MaternalTouch. Thanks for your question about the provision of affordable childcare. There is already a statutory duty on local authorities to ensure sufficient childcare in every community throughout the country (2006 Childcare Act). So in theory, the supply of childcare should not be a problem. But in practice we know it is, particualry for older children (a recnt 4children report showed that only a fraction of children over the age of 11 had access to childcare). In terms of affordability, the problem is that the chilcare tax credit is proving too complex to deliver what it needs to, which is more affordability for those needing childcare. In fact, only 1 in 4 of those eligible are gettig it. I believe we need to simplify the way the tax credit system works to make sure this help is getting to those people who need it.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jul-08 13:20:57

Maria's just looking at it - be patient girl.

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:22:25

Hi Maria Miller.

Are you going to answer my question please?

And as it's quiet today can I have a follow up question to your answer to Maternal Touch? So you're not going to abolish the tax credit system, you're going to simplify it? I know you can't possibly go into detail here, but how - what will the principles of a Tory Tax Credit system be, as opposed to the one we've got now?

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:23:21


<smacked wrist icon>

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:24:42

Dear LittleBella. Good question. This is something that has receieved a lot of media attention because the Government is in the process of significantly tightening the rules for lone parents. By the time of the next General Election, there will be a situation where lone parents with children over the age of 7 will no longer receieve income support and will have been transferred to jobseeker's allowance. You have raised a number of important points and I am concerned that though lone parents have the opportunity to work they are not forced to work hours which are completely incomptaible with good parenting. It is our policy to give all parents with children under the age of 18 the right to seek flexible working from their employers.

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:26:13

MM it is your policy to make Lone Parents work 30 hours a week. My question was, why is it the State's business how many hours I week? I already have flexible working and I am happy with 20 hours, why is your party telling me I have to do 30?

Please answer my question.

ruddynorah Thu 17-Jul-08 13:26:39

it is very easy though for an employer to refuse a request.

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:30:44

Dear myredcardigan, I'm glad you support our proposal on splitting parental leave grin. The problem we still face is that the UK has one of the biggest gender pay gap in Europe- 20% higher than the EU average- because at the moment all maternity benefits are loaded on the female. What we need to see is for parents to be given the choice to share the responsibility and share the time off work to look after their children. By giving both parents the opportunity to take parental leave after the birth of a child, we are also recognising that many more fathers want to have the opportunity to play an active part in their children's early years.

calypso7 Thu 17-Jul-08 13:31:03

Hi Maria, I've read on several occasions about that Gordon Brown is a total workaholic and is up at 5am every morning to get to work - don't you think the Leaders should set an example? Isn't that the way to initiate a change? How does David Cameron balance his work/family life? Is he a workaholic too?

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:32:42

Or am I wrong about the 30 hours Maria? I certainly remember reading that the Tories will require Lone Parents to work a minimum of 30 hours a week and I remember feeling astonished that they had such an interventionist approach to an individual's career. It struck me as most un-tory, which is why I would like someone from the tory party to tell me whether this is actually your policy and if so, why the Tories have strayed so far from their basic principles of not interfering unduly with private citizens. And since you're here Maria, it would be nice if you would clarify. smile

cinzia Thu 17-Jul-08 13:33:54

Would you honestly, hand-on-heart, recommend being a woman MP?

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:33:58

Dear LittleBella. Sorry you thought I didnt answer your question. blush Yes, this Government policy and we have no plans to change it. But as I said before, we need to make sure that the definition of a reasonable job under the jobseekers allowance will not stop parents bringing up children the way they want to.

Graciefer Thu 17-Jul-08 13:34:46

Hi Maria, as a mother of two young boys who both have disabilities, I wanted to know, what if any plans does your party have to help carers either remain in employment or indeed return to some form of employment?

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:39:32

Dear Calypso7, thanks for your question. Spot on. Everyone in a position of leadership, whatever type of organisation, sets the pace. I know from my time working in the advertising industry that people can fall in to the trap of simply being there rather than focussing on doing a good job. I'm sure being PM is tough though! I'm not sure it is easy for Gordon Brown to be a good role model in that job. David Cameron has 3 young children like me and I know that he makes sure that he is around as much as he can be to support his family. He told me that he makes sure he is there for bath time at least once a week... Better than some...and he doesnt get up at 5am, at least not to call me!

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:42:26

Dear Cinzia- that's a tough one wink. Im sure being an MP isnt for everybody. I really enjoy having the opportunity to bring a working mother's perspective to parliament. But if we're going to get more women to be MP's, we need to make more changes to the way parliament works- it doesn't feel very family-friendly to work until 10:30pm two nights a week. I'm working on it!

ruddynorah Thu 17-Jul-08 13:45:41

depends how you look at it, or what time you start. i finish at 11 pm or midnight 4 nights a week. but then i don't start until 5pm, after my husband has finished at 3pm. it's very family friendly smile

i think a lot of people expect these 'family friendly' hours to be basically 9.30 til 3pm or something.

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:46:43

Maria it is not correct to state that it is government policy to insist that lone parents work 30 hours a week. But I do want to know if it's Conservative Party Policy and if so, why, if the individual lone parent can live perfectly comfortably on the wages for 20 hours work.

I'm sorry but I don't believe you have engaged with the substance of my question.

Sorry for banging on, but I'd like this answered because I've read that this is policy but whenever I ask anyone from the Tory party about it, they will neither confirm nor deny it. If you don't know, that's fine, just say so. smile

emmybel Thu 17-Jul-08 13:48:09

Do you think you'll see a woman Prime Minister in your life-time?

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:48:10

Dear Graciefer- one of the most difficult problems facing carers of disabled children is finding childcare. Many parents find getting back into the workplace difficult because there local chilcarers may not have the necessary expertise. I would like more support given to the national childminding networks to provide training and support on caring for children with disabilities. This Monday I went to a Children's Centre to meet childminders who care for disabled children and talked to them about the support they get- it would be good to see similar schemes nationwide. Thanks for your question.

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:50:41

Dear LittleBella, I think you are thinking of the report issued by Iain Duncan Smith MP and the Centre for Social Justice. It isnt our policy, but they are reccommendations to the Shadow Cabinet.

emmybel Thu 17-Jul-08 13:52:29

And a follow up - were you sad to see Hilary Clinton out of the running to be the Democratic candidate? (from a women's point of view that is).

LittleBella Thu 17-Jul-08 13:52:59

Ah so not policy yet, if ever. Thank you.

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:54:06

Dear Emmybell, I decided I wanted to be involved in politics when there was a female PM! winkThe biggest problem we face is the low number of women MP's at the moment- I was the 277th ever female MP. To esnure we get another woman Prime Minister, we need more women putting themselves forward for parliament. Why don't you have a go?

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 13:56:55

...and, thinking about Hillary Clinton, I think it was sad that she didnt make it as the Democratic candidate. But I wonder whether part of her problem was that she wasn't dealing with issues facing women as they are today. I think Obama has a better grasp of the issues affecting modern families in the US.

MariaMiller Thu 17-Jul-08 14:01:19

Well, it has been great chatting on here. Thank you for having me, and tolerating my slow typing! I must go back to the Big House to vote. p.s. I didnt do the typing, it was my 22 year old male assistant! blush

hunkermunker Thu 17-Jul-08 14:29:55

Dammit - too late for another question - where do I get a 22-year-old male assistant?

Thank you for answering my question - would love to know how many months after you had your babies you returned to work and whether you found work compatible with breastfeeding, if that was what you did. But too late, I know [dammit]

[watches MM's career nosedive as she gets hooked on MN and hasn't time to do anything else]

<<glances down at hands on keyboard just to ensure that she isn't actually invisible>>

gosh, thanks for such a detailed response regarding tax credits, child poverty and lone parents. hmm

I'm tired, I can barely scrape together sarcasm.

Katisha Fri 18-Jul-08 08:30:03

Yes... I really don't think the answer to everything is more women MPs which MM seemed pretty fixated upon and also brought it up at the launch as one of her main points...

The idea of this Home Front thing is to say that it's not all about mothers. It's not about working mothers battling to change the system (that has been going on for ages). It's about getting across the idea that is is about parents, both sexes. Therefore male MPs should also consider it their duty and right to work hours that don't isolate them from their families, and that should become the attitude across society in general.

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