Monday, 30 December 2013

Feminism, Class and the Politics of Child Care in Jersey

No one writes about the issue of women in Jersey. None of the "macho" Jersey bloggers would ever dream of mentioning feminism. The female members of the States of Jersey remain indifferent and mute on the subject. So why do women’s issues count for so little today?

Back in the 90's there were active campaigns around reproduction rights and the legalisation of abortion. There was even a magazine dedicated to women's issues called "Née". I was interviewed on the campaign alongside another young lawyer by the name of Christopher Lakeman and there I set out the arguments for a women's right to choose. I helped to found the group "Pro Choice".

A few days ago, as part of a Reform Jersey voter registration campaign, I knocked on the door of a single mother in central town and part of District 1 St Helier and she told me she was utterly bored looking after a toddler and wanted to return to work. She could not afford to do so because the cost of child care was so high. Social Security told her she was better off financially to remain on Income Support and not bother returning to work. 

Caroline the Nursey Nurse

Work is what Caroline wanted. She knew it was what integrated her into society. She missed her colleagues.  It is ironic that Caroline is a Nursery Nurse. Potential wages are so low that she cannot afford to the nursery care that would enable her to return to work as a Nursery Nurse. What a crazy economic system!

One answer might be a State and Parish child care scheme that would allow women to return to work. Why is it not in place? Why is it not top priority for politicians when it is the single most talked about obstacle for families regardless of their social background?

State and Parish subsidised child care would assist mothers, but it would also be a subsidy to employers who are paying wages too low for women to enter the work force. What women need are pay rises.

What Caroline needs is a job with decent pay that would enable her to bring up her child and the child care to enable her to achieve that. 

It is sometimes said that the middle class have children whilst the working class just “breed”. Such prejudice might well be found amongst those who despise single mothers. Yet the right to have children should be a Human Right, not one confined to those with the wealth to afford them. Why should the working class be denied the right to have children on the basis they cannot afford to keep them and should therefore not have them?

Advancing women

Recently a group of middle class Feminists organised a conference in the Grand Hotel around the theme of advancing women in society and politics. They would not call themselves Feminists, no doubt because such a term might, in polite society, be regarded as rather vulgar.

At the conference there was much talk about the “glass ceiling” that prevented women getting onto the Boards of companies and entering the States Assembly, where there are only a handful of women currently. What struck me was that there was no discussion of where was the “floor”? By that I mean the position of working class women, who suffer from low wages and part time work whilst being responsible for child care. There is a recognised 19% pay gap between men and women, but the issue for working class women is low pay.

What is to be done?

So what is to be done to improve the situation of working and non working women?

The issue of maternity rights would be a starter. This exists in the UK having been introduced by a Labour government in the 90’s yet remains to be implemented in Jersey by a government that lacks the will to deliver.

As mentioned, state and Parish organised child care facilities should be a popular policy for any politician seeking to address the needs of working families.

The field is wide open for discussion yet few take it seriously. Elections are only around the corner in 2014. Women must put themselves on the political agenda. By asserting themselves they will emancipate us all.

Oh, and Happy New Year.


  1. The issue of child care is the responsibility of men as well as women. Of course the reality is that it’s often left to women. I do wonder why States Members (male and female) aren’t trying to organise better access to childcare.

    What support is available is unclear: . This list has “Weekly rate - childcare under 3 years - £6.27” What does that mean? The Social Security department should get an award for obfuscating. Whatever it is offering is not likely to be available to all. I expect there are about 150 conditions which apply first. As for tax relief for middle income earners, it’s only applicable when registered childcare is used. So there’s no help for the huge amount of parents who use friends and family and give payments/gifts in return. Also, there is no help whatsoever for the huge group of people who fall between income support and middle income.

    As an employer I pay above the minimum wage, social security and holiday pay. I can’t offer a higher hourly rate because I’m competing with people who do not register a business and customers often prefer to use them and pay cash. There must be many small businesses like mine which cannot afford to pay more. There are many women who operate small businesses like mine partly because it gives them the flexibility to work around school hours.

    Personally, I’ve campaigned for feminist issues and continue to do what I can. It’s not easy because I think we’re so far from even getting started that it’s hard to see the way forward.

    As for the conference at the Grand Hotel, I didn’t even know about it till after it happened. It’s a shame it wasn’t open to more people.

    1. Thank you for your considered and sympathetic views, especially as a small employer. Feminist issues simply get no airing in Jersey in any forum. The Conference was a beginning and I would not wish to be too critical.The focus was on the ambitions of upper-middle class women who wish to advance themselves in business and politics. All admirable, but there are poor women struggling to work and bring up families. Our present government ignores their plight.

  2. Excellent post Nick.

    As the suffragettes would say, it is "deeds not words" that count.

    As good as we may have felt for attending the conference on women in politics, it is a waste of time if nothing concrete happens as a result.

    At the elections next year we need candidates who will overtly support progressive policies like fast tracking the anti-discrimination laws, introducing a statutory maternity pay and encourage a living wage so that working class people are able to sustain themselves and take responsibility for their affairs without living in poverty.

    1. Well said. The formulation of policy is important and you have highlighted some of those that need to be argued strongly next year.

  3. "No one writes about the issue of women in Jersey. None of the "macho" Jersey bloggers would ever dream of mentioning feminism."

    What is meant by "macho jersey bloggers?"

    I know how hard it is for me to do the work I do so keep my posts on a very small number of subjects. Now, why don't you take up this very important issue and does it make anyone less "macho" because they can't cover everything?

    Nick, I look forward to you take up this issue. What is the plan?


    1. Rico, you do a great job and that is recognised by all. There a lots of issues that need to be joined up in one moverment for change. Only collectively are we strong - hence organisation must be our watchword.

      There are plenty of women out there, some of them still in the closet, that desire change. For it to happen they will have to take risks and expose themselves, as you and I do.

      Today I spoke to a supporter who had been intimidated by "a burly man" for the position she had taken. She was frightened but she told him what he could do with his foul calumnies.

      The position of women in Jersey will be made a political issue and one which all will have to address that seek to rule.

  4. As a fellow blogger, I do consider feminist issues from time to time, and most notably recently in the political cliche "man up". This is important, because continual use of these cliches as acceptable in political discourse is demeaning to woman.

    I also looked at the sex discrimination law in Guernsey and UK but not in Jersey at:

    At the introduction of the law in the UK:

    And the attitude of the Havana Club owner back in 2008 in:

    I have a post in preparation on "testicular fortitude" as that cliche has received widespread condemnation from feminist groups, alongside "man up".

    1. Great, but who amongst our "elected" take seriously the issue? I have not seen any of our female States Members overtly raise issues or bring propositions that address women. No doubt they will tell us they do much good work "on committee".

      There is a call for more women in the States, yet there is an uncomfortable truth that historically they have been some of the weakest members.

    2. How far back does "historically" apply? Sarah Ferguson is a pretty strong States member, and in the past, I could cite Jane Sandeman, Gwyneth Huelin, Enid Quenault, Iris Le Feuvre. Agree with them or not, they were certainly not weak. Tracy Valois is also up and coming strong.

  5. Of those women you mention that no longer sit in the Assembly could you name two of their achievements? Would any relate to the advancement of women or simply the efficient management of men and things?

    Imogen Nicholls as Deputy was involved in the hard fought campaign for reproductive rights that led to a new Abortion Law. I do recall Deputy Jackie Huet in the debate on the age of consent coming out with the classic remark that she did not bring up three sons to have them buggered!