By Eva Cripps
Paid parental leave is contentious. Parents get fiercely protective over their right to reproduce. Non-parents get angry about subsidising ‘personal choices’. Politicians turn it into a populist game which divides the community.
First it was the baby bonus. Then Labor copped flack in 2011 with its paid parental leave scheme. People were outraged at Prime Minister Abbott’s lavish 6-months-at-full-pay policy. Now the Government’s Mothers Day backflip on Paid Parental Leave has again thrown into the spotlight, the right of a woman to have access to tax dollars on the birth of her child.
All the while, men and women are busy horizontally dancing and more babies are born.
This is reality. This is fact. It is not going to change.
No amount of protestations over whether having children is a personal choice, an essential need, a basic instinct, or a duty to society will stop men and women producing babies.
Like it or not, society as a whole pays the price for the emerging generation.
Just like every other ‘personal choice’ or ‘basic right’ or ‘duty,’ all taxpayers provide a subsidy. Federal funds are spent on road infrastructure, used by people choosing to live and travel in that area. Federal funds go to businesses, boosting the profits of the individual business owner. Federal funds buy war planes and submarines, whether the community approves or not. In each case, every tax payer funds it, whether or not they personally benefit.
But when women are attacked for accessing federal funds to help provide financial support in the first crucial months of a baby’s life, it has a nasty vibe.
Because parenthood is not just about women. It is about families. And communities.
Society depends on reproduction to survive. This is reality. It is unavoidable.
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison’s recent accusation that new mothers have been ‘double-dipping’ on paid parental leave is simply outrageous. Supporting families, supporting parenthood, and supporting new mothers and fathers makes economic sense.
The benefits of a paid parental leave scheme far outweigh the costs.
The former Government’s scheme intended for women to access both employer and federally funded schemes, if available, for very good reasons.
Poor health costs Australians billions of dollars every year. Mental health, in particular, is a massive problem for Australians. It costs over $28.6 billion a year to support people with mental illnesses.
Provision of paid parental leave is not just about women.
Studies conducted in 2012 show that 1 in 20 fathers are diagnosed with depression either before or just after their baby is born in Australia each year.
This is huge and it is a real problem.
You may not have children, but you will almost certainly work with someone who does. If that person is depressed, it will affect you. Depression results in reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and increased costs for the business. Lost productivity alone costs Australian businesses more than $310 million a year.
This in turn places enormous pressure on other employees. Workplace stress costs Australian businesses over $10 billion a year.
1 in 7 women suffer from postnatal depression and 1 in 10 suffer from anti-natal depression. Poor parental mental health affects the health and wellbeing of infants and children. Severe stress during pregnancy has the same affect a foetus as alcohol or drug use.
Yet many in society expect families to either save up a huge amount of money (at least $15,000 to cover 6 months at the minimum wage), or return to work (in some cases before a baby has had its first vital immunisations) rather than be provided with financial support.
Either option puts enormous pressure on parents and prospective parents, with negative health effects on the whole family. Which costs the taxpayer.
‘Having babies’ does not ‘cause’ depression.
But financial hardship is a well-recognised and established factor.
The World Health Organisation recommends women spend the first 6 months at home with a new baby. This is important for the mother’s health and the baby’s health. Babies should be exclusively breastfeed or bottle fed until 6 months of age. Babies form crucial bonds during this time with their primary care-giver. Their future security, good attachment to people and self-worth is dependent on a positive, caring and nurturing start. A babies’ capacity to be a well-functioning and useful member of society as an adult is dependent on a good beginning.
The former Liberal Party’s paid parental leave policy acknowledged this with its proposed 6 months of full pay for working mothers. Labor’s scheme accounted for employee paid leave by offering mothers 18 weeks on the minimal wage. In combination with the average 9.7 weeks of maternity leave provided by employers, this afforded them a possible 6 months at home caring for their child.
Independent reports show that since the introduction of Labor’s Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2011, health outcomes for mothers and babies improved and workforce participation for women increased.
This should be celebrated.
Instead, mothers have been labelled as ‘double-dippers’ and accused of rorting the system.
Today’s economy is based on two incomes. For many families, with rising costs of living, it is simply not possible to save up enough money to completely cover a whole lost income while a parent is at home looking after a newborn (and while it’s predominantly women, some men are primary carers too).
Arguing that men and women should not have children until they can afford it ignores basic biological reality.
Having a child is not like starting up a business. A woman has limited choice about when she can ‘have a go’ and start a family.
There is a small window to establish a career, buy a house and build up a wad of savings, before a woman reaches the grand young age of 35, when the risks and complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth increase. By the time a woman reaches 44, she has only a 1-2% chance of falling pregnant naturally.
The average age of a female business owner is between 35 and 44. It’s not realistic to expect women to wait so long to start a family.
Times have changed. The one income family is not feasible for most couples. People who had children a generation ago and say they ‘managed to have babies without paid parental leave’ are ignoring reality. Communities have changed. Grandparents, relatives and neighbours are no longer available to help – they are too busy working themselves.
Today’s society gives rise to the perfect conditions for increased postnatal and antenatal depression in both men and women. This comes at a huge cost to the taxpayer and businesses.
It makes economic sense to support parents. It makes economic sense to take steps to improve health outcomes from infancy. It makes economic sense to provide new mothers with financial support to assist them to spend the first 6 months at home with their children.
It does not make economic sense to divide society with outlandish, inflammatory and incorrect claims that women are ‘double-dipping’ by accessing work and government paid parental leave schemes.
The reality remains that men and women will continue to have babies. Personal choice or not.
Eva Cripps is a freelance writer with a keen interest in legal, social justice and community matters. She has a Bachelor of Laws degree with First Class Honours, and is currently in the final year of studying for the Bachelor of Social Science, majoring in Social Justice and Behavioural Science. She’s also a mother to two young children and lives in Tasmania.