The unjust wrath of ‘stay at home’ mothers

I don’t particularly want to get involved in the row about whether the UK appreciates ‘stay at home’ mothers or not. But I’m not sure I can entirely accept the fury coming from the ‘stay at home’ mothers’ lobby about the utter unfairness of working parents getting a tiny tax-break on their childcare.

It seems to me that if you don’t pay income tax, you don’t much need a tax-break. And if you’ve made a decision to stay at home and look after your children, why would you want a tax-break that helped you pay someone else to do it? I’d also add that being a ‘stay at home’ parent is hardly a subsidy-free zone.

‘Stay at home’ parents get National Insurance credits that non-parents and working parents don’t get. If you are caring for a child under 12, you get Class 3 credits – which go towards your state pension (details here).

What’s that worth? Well, if you had to buy those credits, they would cost you £13.25 a week (£689 a year). And if you were working and on an average wage of, say, £25,000 a year, you’d be paying £2,132 to get those credits. It’s not exactly peanuts is it? I’d also note that all parents get help with childcare in the UK (which is nice given that it is the most expensive childcare in Europe).

Full-time mothers don’t have to be full-time for long: whether they work or not, they get 15 hours of state-funded nursery care for 38 weeks a year as soon as their child turns three. That’s worth around £3,600 a year – a vital financial break to those who are paying someone else to look after their children while they work, and a nice craft and educational outing break for those who aren’t.

There is a case to be made that we undervalue families in the UK by taxing people individually rather than as married couples (we don’t let non-workers pool income tax allowances with their working partners, for example), but that’s a different argument altogether.

I’ll come back to it another time, but in the meantime, it seems to me that the state, far from insulting non-working mothers with a lack of state-subsidised help, is pretty good to them.