With TUC figures showing that thousands of workers are earning less than a living wage, many more people will be working more than one job in order to make ends meet. And still others are increasing their paid hours in order to pay off debts or to maintain living standards that have become increasingly expensive.
It’s the impact of this long hours culture on families and on children that we talked about on Woman's Hour Yes, I was on Woman's Hour – and yes, I'm still very excited about that!
Government’s mantra is that work is the route out of poverty, parents must be encouraged to go to work, and childcare that’s affordable and accessible will support them to do that. Schools look like a great place for childcare, and many before- and after-school clubs are excellent. But there’s a price to pay: teachers are seeing an increase in children spending less time with their families, and more time in school. They're seeing children so tired that they fall asleep in class, and they have no energy to engage with their friends. Children who are so tied to the routines of their childcare that any changes make them cry.
And working long hours leaves parents exhausted too. They want to read, and play, and talk with their children. They (mostly) want to help with homework. But it all has to be done at weekends and in that time before school and before bed when, to be fair, most of the talking is ‘where are your shoes’ and ‘why do you have marmalade in your hair. Again’.
Tired children and stressed parents don’t make for a good relationship with school and with learning. We need to question whether an economy based on unpaid overtime, long hours and low pay is sustainable, and find ways to support mothers and fathers to have the flexibility to spend time with their children. The rush to institutionalised childcare, however convenient, is likely to undermine the kind of creative and challenging learning that we need young people to engage in.