Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Modern Childcare for a modern state.

For me Sinn Fein is about building a modern state in Ireland, replacing the half baked relics of failed partion with one state. But we are still a distance from a modern state , and thats not to focus on the record of the greasy fumblers governing us in the south, but instead to look at who is ruling us. Overwhelmingly they are men! Six out of every Seven TDs in Leinster house and there is four male for every female Seanadóir. The situation is actually lamentable with 14% of TDs being women, compared to the EU average of 27%.

Increasing the proportion of women in Leinster house, the seanaid and northern assembly would seem to be a fair proposition solely on the basis of having the legislative bodies reflect the gender divide. The imperative to do so is not solely based on notions of fairness though but the urgent need to improve the standard of governance and the responsiveness of govts. to the requirements of all its citizens.

The south has a national strategy for increasing women's participation in the legislative bodies. However it has its work cut out for it. At the current rate of increase it will take 370 years for the percentage of women in the Leinster house to reach 50%. Hardly good enough.

Noted economist Anne Sibert, and others, have already commented on how an increased percentage of women in financial circles could have mitigated the worst excesses of the financial bubble.

The other aspect of this is ensuring the responsiveness of the Govt. to the needs of its citizens. Legislative bodies overwhelmingly stacked with men might not be best suited for developing policy that considers how to create a women friendly society, in other words a modern society giving equal opportunity, a society that does not simply throw its hands in the air and say thats how its always been.

A good example of this carry on sure tis grand attitude is childcare. One of the stories of the Celtic Tiger (late of this parish) was the greatly increased participation of women, of all ages, in the workforce. Considering this was an increasing trend since the early 90s then it would be reasonable to expect that a suitable childcare policy would have been developed over the years such that a decade after the boom started we might have an affordable childcare system.

The OECD a few years back did a series of reports on the Kids and Careers balance . In 2003 Ireland was one of the countries covered. Even a decade after the boom started to take off it found that while married Irish mothers were at work in huge numbers single mothers were not. While up to 80% of single moms in Australia were working in Ireland it was half that. The buden of expensive childcare was denying these women the opportunity to build a career and was effectively forcing them into a benefits trap. For a Govt. that boasted so much of incentivising the independent
entrepreneurial spirit keeping single mothers out of the labour market through high childcare costs just didnt register as an issue. Instead childcare in southern Ireland was to be provided by the extended family if you couldnt afford the exorbitant costs of care.

Hardly a fair response from the govt. and as damningly typical of their short-sighted policies. France considers child care provision as not only a social policy but equally as an economic policy allowing greater labour force participation while making sure that the state (and companies) play there part in building a child friendly society. In a Europe faced with an imploding demographic such an approach makes sense.

In Ireland though its clearly not a concern for the old boys club. 7 years after the OECD pointed us out as failing in our provision of childcare support we still have cildcare costs that are far above the EU average, with Irish families spending 20% of their incomes on full-time crèche facilities compared with 12% of income for families in the rest of Europe.

2003 was the year the OECD pointed out our second rate childcare policies. It was also the year the Spire was finally topped off in Dublin. This was the symbol of a new and modern Ireland.

A much more fitting symbol would have been childcare system that was at least the equal of what our neighbours in Europe have.

How likely were the lads who thought the Spire a good idea to even consider that. A bit of different perspective would have made a difference. More women in the legislative bodies would have helped provide that perspective.

There is a new blog trying to give voice to that perspective and give a greater role to Irish women in politics. There is plenty of work to be done before that job is finished and I wish them well.

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