Universal basic income would revolutionise mothers’ lives, whose unpaid work keeps society going
There’s no doubt a universal basic income could help make society more equal. There’s a particular group that often gets overlooked, for whom it would be especially life-changing. Mothers. In funding terms, they are often regarded as a niche category. A representative of a grant-giving organisation told me recently that they would never be ‘a priority issue’ unless there was a risk to their offspring’s lives. I struggle with this attitude.
Yes, I do know fathers are immensely important too, many working equally hard and needing support, but it is women who carry and birth the children and do the bulk of the ‘work’ in most households – childcare, cooking, cleaning etc. Much of mothers’ work is unpaid and unseen, yet it keeps society going.
If you are reading this and thinking it doesn’t concern you because you are not one, remember that every person on the planet has, or had, a mother. This is not in any way meant to denigrate women who are not mothers, either through choice or circumstance. It is not that mothers are superior citizens, superhuman beings who rank higher than everyone else, but very often their needs are not met at all. When they are not met, nor are those of the family. The impact on children includes emotional and behavioural problems and special educational needs. There is a detrimental impact on a partner’s mental health, as well as causing financial problems.
Those who should be the most valued and cherished are not
I became involved in Basic Income South East recently, a campaign group based mainly in Brighton that is looking to get a basic income pilot for the city. Obviously, because of coronavirus (Covid-19), basic income has become an immensely hot topic as we can see what a harsh, unfair society we live in. Those who should be the most valued and cherished are not. Our efforts to contain and slow the spread of the coronavirus have social consequences such as loss of income for many people. Mothers, often on a career break raising their children, are likely to fall outside the remit of one of the financial bailouts. We need a universal basic income that recognises this important contribution, especially as we look to build back better.
I set up Mothers Uncovered as a result of my own experiences of feeling panicky and alone. We provide creative peer support groups for mostly new and isolated mums to highlight the importance of and address post-natal mental health needs. All our activities are run by past participants. The women that attend our groups are not wealthy. They are struggling to make ends meet. Many have no choice but to go back to ‘work’ when they don’t feel ready because ‘society’ tells them this is how they contribute – economically. But raising their children is also contributing to society.
Too many women are falling through the cracks
Seeing the pain this anxiety caused made me even more of an advocate for maternal mental health, especially as women are often told to ‘keep quiet’ when they speak up, and mothers even more so. As part of this advocacy, I set up a petition calling for greater investment into peer support measures for mothers. This is often the best way to support them and it’s cheaper!
Inadequate maternal care costs the UK £8bn a year, with a comparatively modest £337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to close the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures? Many women experience post-natal depression (PND), believed to be at least one woman in every five and a lot suffer in silence. With suicide as the leading cause of maternal death, too many women are falling through the cracks as their physical and emotional needs go unmet.
Why are so many mothers suffering? It often starts with a traumatic birth, which can have a long-term impact on mental health. Secondly, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) and those with PND (perceived as a small proportion). You need to be referred for treatment by a health professional for PND. There is a shaming stigma of ‘not coping’ and many women do not identify themselves as ‘depressed’.
Thirdly, many women feel they have no one to talk to. They know how lucky they are to be mothers, so repeatedly deny any of their own needs to the point when they are in a desperate state. Many mum and baby groups are informal drop-ins in which other mothers may appear to be coping much better. Courses in Children’s Centres are usually run by a health professional, which can sometimes create an ‘us and them’ atmosphere.
Mental and emotional wellbeing
Matrescence is a term coined nearly fifty years ago to describe the ‘transition of a woman into motherhood’. This acknowledges that it’s perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. Mothers Uncovered helps hundreds of women with our groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. Participants quickly open up as they realise they are not the only ones struggling, they start to take ownership of their lives and decisions. Many women say we have quite literally, ‘saved their lives’. Of course, it’s essential to have the statutory services there; women are very grateful for the care the NHS provides. However, a lot of women would never get to the stage of severe PND if the right support were there in the first place and if peer support services were given better backing, then another pressure on the NHS would ease.
Going forward from the coronavirus crisis, it’s essential we invest more in maternal care, both in the statutory care provided for mothers’ physical wellbeing, as well as peer support measures for their mental and emotional wellbeing. A basic income would give mothers a small breathing space to concentrate on raising their children in the best way possible, and them both being as happy and healthy as possible. Being sick with worry is not good for them, or their children – the children that will grow up and lead our world forward.
Featured image via Maggie Gordon-Walker used with permission
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