It was back-to-school yesterday for everyone except me. After returning to the classroom last year I’ve now returned home – as a stay-at-home or work-at-home dad. I’ve enjoyed my year teaching psychology; I’d have happily carried on. But that would’ve meant sorting childcare for Eloise and probably moving Charlie out of his current nursery. To say nothing of the cost. As a report by Aviva pointed out only last week, the rising cost of childcare is leading to increasing numbers of parents finding that paid work outside the home is no longer a viable option. According to their survey a working mother could be up to £98 a month worse off than if she were to stay at home.
Now believe me (unless this is just my natural male incompetence talking) staying at home looking after young children ain’t the easy option. I think on balance I actually found ‘work’ – real paid work outside the home – slightly less demanding last year. Not that there aren’t joys and benefits a-plenty from staying at home looking after the kids. But the benefits certainly aren’t financial.
Which brings me to the point. The markets have crashed, unemployment is rising, inflation is eating our savings and reducing the scope of the money we spend… where will it end? Many financial experts are certain that we’re in for a double-dip recession. Others argue that the first dip never really went away and that – unless we crawl out from under the economic rubble pretty soon – we’re headed for a full-blown world-wide depression of the 1930’s kind.
It’s all more than a little worrying. And there’s a limit (although we harvested a handful of delicious eating apples from a tree the other day) to the amount you can gain by foraging. There are many things I don’t understand about economics, not least the fact that we all (even so-called ‘communist’ China) seem to agree that gambling with obscene amounts of other people’s money is what makes the financial world go round. But what I really don’t get is how we (that is, our national economies) can realistically be expected to ‘grow’ all the time. It’s like expecting Usain Bolt to break a world record every time he runs. He’d pretty soon be finishing the race before he’d begun, a little like last week when he jumped the gun. Maybe we’ll all just have to batten down the hatches and ride out the economic storm. But it’s a vicious cycle. If we can’t afford to work not only aren’t we spending our (tax paid) income supporting the child-care economy, we can’t buy as much stuff either. Which means more people won’t be paid or else be paid less, and there’ll be even less cash to spend on the high street.
I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m certain that – once we’re out of this hole – some serious thinking needs to be done about the way we (or should I say ‘they’) make our money. Because when it works it’s good for all of us, but better by far for them. But when it falters, we’re the ones to suffer. They seem to have nests feathered well enough to ride the storm.
Until then, I’m off to do some a bit more foraging. Nature’s bounty, that sort of thing. No money changes hands; no tax or national insurance gets paid. There’s no pension contribution in it. But it’s free… and it’s tasty. And a bit like living in the past. Maybe the old rocker Ian Anderson was right all along…