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The new Minister for Children: what do you think she should be doing?

79 replies

WideWebWitch · 18/06/2003 13:19

Following on from the cabinet reshuffle thread and the discussion about childcare in the school holidays, I wondered which children's issues mumsnetters think the new minister for children should focus on? I'd like to suggest advertising aimed at children for a start, (especially junk food and character tie-ins but don't want a big discussion about it, done so on other threads thanks!) but what do the rest of you think is most important?
Anyone want to volunteer to send her the thread afterwards to ask her what she's going to do about our concerns?!

OP posts:
Claireandrich · 18/06/2003 13:31

One of my bug bears - salt content in food aimed at toddlers and children. I think something needs to be done to bring it right down or get rid of it altogether. I am sure that cans of beans, etc. don't need so much salt.

Sure I can think of more later!

bossykate · 18/06/2003 13:31

sounds like a good idea to pitch for an article, www.

my issues are:
affordable childcare
improving state secondary education (more an issue for David Milibrand this one)
how to promote bf longer
agree with you on advertising aimed at children
more state support for reading to pre-school children
more support for work/life balance

fio2 · 18/06/2003 13:32

being a mother of a child with special needs I would like the appropriate services to be available for her without having to nag, phone, pay for it ourselves, wait for months on end.

outofpractice · 18/06/2003 13:45

Definitely putting pressure on the men in government to release funds for early years childcare, and not to forget tax relief for women on higher incomes. A lot of women who would have remained at work and gone on to senior positions drop out because childcare is so expensive and the work culture is so macho. This creates all kinds of longterm problems in society, because of lack of influential women at the top in most professions. She should focus on getting money allocated for children's needs, not just saying nice things about an ideal world.

aloha · 18/06/2003 13:49

I think she needs to resign. She's a dangerous woman IMO and totally unsuited for any job - particularly one involving children. She did bugger all for schools in Islington when she ran it, just bussed her kids into Camden. And her administration allowed kids to rot in corrupt cesspits of care homes, where they were sexually abused and nobody cared. She even refused to investigate when it was drawn to her personal attention. What kind of person is this to have this job?

aloha · 18/06/2003 13:50

Tax relief on chilcare of all kinds. That's what I want. You can claim for dinners and chauffeurs but not for childcare. Makes me sick.

princesspeahead · 18/06/2003 13:54

agree on ban on advertising, control of salt levels in food, tax relief on childcare costs (for all women, not just high tax bracket)
would also add ban on fizzy drink vending in schools (why is this allowed?), better statutory maternity pay so people can actually think about taking the year that is now theoretically available to them, full and proper independent investigation into MMR with published results, some attempt to solve midwifery crisis including more availability of home births for all and some attempt to sort out indemnity insurance for independent midwives, investigation into strep B screening in pregnancy, ummmm, can't think of anything else off the top of my head!

haven't even touched on the education and health issues which should be adequately dealt with by ministries of education and health (and which clearly aren't)

Tom · 18/06/2003 13:54

She should develop an integrated early years policy covering the whole pre-school period, based on three assumptions:

  1. Children's rights and welfare
  2. Women's opportunities in the workplace
  3. Men's opportunities to care for their children.

    This should consist of...

  4. A parental leave regime:
  • 3 months paid maternity leave (90% salary)
  • 2 weeks paid paternity leave (90% salary)
  • 3 months paid parental leave per parent within the first year (50% salary)
  • 6 months paid parental leave per parent within the first year (SMP rates)

  1. State backed childcare consisting of:
  • Free nursery place for every child (non-compulsory) over 12 months old, until the child is ready for school
  • Free holiday clubs for children (non-compulsory)for all children attending primary school
  • Decent wages to attract decent staff (and more men) into the childcare sector

    Plus, here's some more ideas
  • Massive investment in child protection services
  • Clear articulation of the driving forces behind government policies (see my 1,2,3 on the top of the post)
  • Creation of new service (outside the courts) to enable separating parents to negotiate arrangements in the best interest of the chld
  • Creation of special facilities and policies for imprisoned parents (current arrangements mean children are punished as well)

    And then there's health and education, but I guess they're outside her remit. That's enough to get going with, I feel.

    It'll never happen though!
outofpractice · 18/06/2003 14:02

princesspeahead, women in the low tax brackets are already supposed to have tax relief! This is the working families tax credit! Tom, I like your aims to encourage working fathers to take parental leave - this also helps mothers to gain credibility in the workplace and counteracts workaholic culture. However, I do think that women need greater protection than 3 months as women, because of the biological fact that they are the ones who have just given birth and may well be breastfeeding. It is really hard to return to work when you are still breastfeeding, as plenty of us have done, and longer paid maternity leave would be better. 3 months is below the current minimum and would be contrary to European law.

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:03

Erm... that's why they'd have 3 months maternity, followed by 3 months on level 1 parental, followed by 6 months level 2 parental - a total of 12 months - enough, surely?

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:04

Erm... that's why they'd have 3 months maternity, followed by 3 months on level 1 parental, followed by 6 months level 2 parental - a total of 12 months - enough, surely?

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:06

And it wouhldn't be contrary to European law - the European average maternity leave is something like 14 weeks - the rest is parental leave, which can be taken by either parent. We are the only country in Europe who has given 12 months of maternity leave and 2 weeks paternity, thus denying couples the option of sharing care in the first twelve months. In the UK, childcare is pretty much legally defined as women's work as a result.

aloha · 18/06/2003 14:13

No sponsored food in schools - no crap like fizzy drinks either. No vending machines except for milk, fruit, fruitjuice, etc.

Proper parental leave (a la Tom's proposals)

Shared care for children of separated parents.

A ban on smacking all children (controversial, I know)

GBSS screening

Nursery places yet, but also funding direct to parents who want other arrangements, such as nannies.

princesspeahead · 18/06/2003 14:14

sort of but not really out of practice - the working families tax credit takes into account the income of the whole family. I think it should be a credit against what either husband or wife (or either partner) earns, as they designate. Most families have one partner who will work, and the other partner will decide whether to work or not depending on a raft of reasons. Some of those are financial - and if the second one's extra earnings are wiped out by childcare costs then there isn't much point - even if the main breadwinners earnings are enough to take them over the family tax credit threshold.

outofpractice · 18/06/2003 14:15

The point is that maternity leave is for a woman and by providing paid leave, it encourages her to stay away from work and breastfeed, but if it is parental leave, then women who earn more than their partners will be under pressure to return to work instead. It is my personal value judgment that supporting breastfeeding by the mother of a very young baby by providing financial incentives for her (and not her partner) to remain off work is better than a policy that encourages either parent to take leave when the baby is very young. You may not feel that breastfeeding is important as I do, which is up to you.

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:25

But it wouldn't work legally, for the following reason.

The Sex Discrimination Act prevents any leave being given to women and not men UNLESS it's for the purposes of pregnancy and childbirth. It's rooted in Health and Safety legislation (european) and is there to protect women's health post birth. There is no Sex discrimination exemption for breastfeeding.

Under the law as it is, I believe (and so do the Equal Opportunities Commission) that the current leave regime is illegal - we are just waiting for a test case.

This is why ALL other European countries provide a short period of maternity leave followed by a longer period of Parental leave. The ILO minimum standards for maternity leave is 12 week's leave.

France: 16 weeks
Spain: 16 weeks
Germany: 14 weeks

etc, etc.
We are the ONLY European country with over 18 weeks maternity pay, because ALL other European countries recognise the gender issue.

The problem with providing leave for breastfeeding (which is covered by PARENTAL leave in all other Euro countries) is twofold... firstly, it isn't covered by either European Health and Safety law OR Sex Discrimination exemptions, and secondly, what do you do with women who aren't breastfeeding beyond an initial period - i.e. the majority? Are they ineligible for the extended leave? Would women have to prove they are breastfeeding?

I agree that there should be leave provision for women who want to breastfeed - don't get me wrong - I know it's best for the child. BUT it should be part of parental leave so that couples have the choice of who does childcare and are not forced into an arrangement where women lose out on career progression, men lose out on caring opportuntities and both are forced into traditional gender roles, which most couples these days DON'T want.

bunny2 · 18/06/2003 14:29

I interpreted the Ministerial post as one dealing specifically with children not maternity, parents or tax as there are already posts that deal with these (I use the term 'deal with' loosely). I would like to see the new Minister tackle

early release of sexual offenders (who so often reoffend),

lack of funding for police specifically to target child porn rings,

salt/additives in childrens food,

lack of time for sport/PE in school curriculum,

dog owners who continue to let there dogs crap in the grass where ds plays.

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:34

Agreed - the DTI holds responsibility for Parental/maternity/paternity leave, BUT!

My proposal was for an INTEGRATED EARLY YEARS POLICY - one that combines all the thinking about parental leave and childcare, so there are not gaps - so that there is a strategy for providing a number of pathways through early years with a combination of good quality childcare and parental leave.

The model for this is the Swedish system. This provides 14 months of parental leave - 2 months for the mother only, 2 months for the father only ("use it or lose it leave" and the rest is transferable (but I don't really like transferable, but anyway).

It is paid at 90% of salary for the first 12 months then there is a guarenteed nursery place for all children.

The point is that they have thought about this stuff together, as part of an integrated package that puts childrens, mothers and fathers rights clearly in focus.

In the UK, we have a mish mash.

Only problem is, I'd much rather see Patricia Hewitt take on that task than Margaret Hodge!

outofpractice · 18/06/2003 14:36

Tom, Your legal argument is wrong, but if you want me to explain why in full, you will have to pay me! Breastfeeding mothers who return to work are currently given health and safety protections under EU law, however, I am saying that if I were devising the UK laws, I would increase that protection by facilitating her to take longer off work. As you say, most women now don't breastfeed for the WHO recommended times, which is why I would provide greater incentives.

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:38

Well, I don't see any exemption in the SDA for breastfeeding... do you?

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:43

From the SDA:
2. Sex Discrimination Against Men
2(1) Section 1, and the provisions of Parts II and III relating to sex discrimination
against women, are to be read as applying equally to the treatment of men,
and for that purpose shall have effect with such modifications as are requisite.
2(2) In the application of subsection (1) no account shall be taken of special
treatment afforded to women in connection with pregnancy or childbirth.

No mention of breastfeeding. So giving leave to womenfor b/f would be sex discrimination against men. Pretty simple, I think.

fio2 · 18/06/2003 14:44

bunny2 I have got 2 dogs and I never leave their poo when I take them a walk-I always pick it up. It really iritates me when people leave poo on kids parks.


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princesspeahead · 18/06/2003 14:47

well tom as a lawyer I'd be happy to argue that breastfeeding is connected with pregnancy and childbirth, but I'll leave it to out of practice to argue this one, it is clearly in her area of specialism and absolutely outside mine

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:49

I'm not convinced. The reason pregnancy and childbirth are protected by the SDA is that they are certainties, which need protection. The minute you start proposing that leave be based on breastfeeding you get into the problem of non-breastfeeding mothers. Are they entitled or not?

Tom · 18/06/2003 14:52

Anyway, this kinda misses the point that my proposals would provide couples who choose to breastfeed their baby with all the leave they'd need. It happens all over Europe, quite legally, so I don't see the problem here. All my proposals add is choice for couples. If you exclude men from leave regimes in the first year, which ours currently do, you are simply steering women into childcare, men into breadwinning, widening the pay gap and entrenching traditional gender roles.

And then later we'll hear complaints that dads don't do enough childcare!!

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