The Mummyfesto

Linda Green, author of The Mummyfesto


mumsnet

Time for the Mumsnet Revolution

The findings of the Mumsnet survey on UK politics are damning but sadly come as no surprise. Ninety per cent of those polled believe the culture in Westminster is sexist. Eighty five per cent do not view the UK parliament as family friendly. Two thirds want more women in top political jobs and three quarters believe Prime Minister’s Question is unprofessional and outdated.

Of course, on a day when our political leaders are grappling with the fall-out resulting from their attempts to try to win over voters by hiring a tabloid journalist who had resigned due to phone-hacking accusation, the survey will not be making front page headlines.

It should do, though. Because if our political leaders spent a little less time engaging in macho posturing and political point-scoring and a little more time listening to the concerns of parents, they might just hit on an election-winning formula.

The electorate is massively disillusioned with mainstream politics. The electorate is also much sharper than politicians give them credit for. Parents are used to people attempting to pull the wool over their eyes. And they look at politicians’ cynical attempts to use spin doctors to ‘manage’ the news and see right through it.

What they want is action not words. Concrete policies to transform our archaic and inherently sexist political system. Not empty promises designed to win the Mumsnet vote.

And let’s be honest here. We are not talking about the need for some tinkering under the bonnet. Not even a reconditioned engine. We need an entirely new vehicle to drive politics forward so that it is fit for purpose in a modern age.

In my novel The Mummyfesto, the main characters Sam, Anna and Jackie decide to set up a new political party and run in the general election because they are fed up with their views and concerns not being represented in parliament and believe a bunch of mums could make a better job of it.

Far-fetched? It couldn’t really happen outside the pages of a novel could it? The establishment are fond of telling us we are being ridiculous when any ideas which challenge the status quo are put forward. But it’s up to us to prove them wrong.

What Sam, Anna and Jackie do is harness the power of women’s voices in social media to get their campaign rolling. And that is something women have been doing a lot of in the real world lately. Whether it’s the No More Page Three campaign, which has forced Rupert Murdoch into an embarrassing admission that it may be very last century, or the campaigns to get a woman on a banknote and mothers’ names on marriage certificates, women are demonstrating that they are out there campaigning and forcing through change. Because in social media there are no rules excluding women, it can be accessed in and around women’s busy lives. And it can make a world of difference.

If we can work together, we can make our voices heard. And make politicians understand that this is not about squeezing an extra woman or two into the system. It’s about the need to scrap the system entirely and create something new, something fitting of this century.

The Lollipop Party in The Mummyfesto call for the Houses of Parliament to be replaced with a network of mini regional parliaments, located in cities across the UK, meaning no one would have to leave their family four days a week to be in London.

This system would allow all MPs to live in the constituency they represent, connecting them with voters and putting an end once-and-for-all to expenses scandals. The regional parliaments would operate in school hours and would be electronically linked. The adversarial system of opposing government benches, which encourage the ya-boo politics so hated by the electorate, would be replaced with members speaking in turn from around the country, thus enabling a more collegiate approach - something women would relish.

The members would do something which women across the country do all the time, sit down and talk through problems in a civil fashion and take immediate action to put things right. As opposed to shouting and screaming the odds at each other in a debating chamber for over-grown public schoolboys, that is. A debating chamber where it’s OK for our Prime Minister to tell a female MP to ‘calm down dear’.

The news for Mr Cameron is that women are not feeling calm right now about their lack of a stake in public life. They are feeling angry and justifiably so. And he may like to know that the ‘traditional male bastion of power’, otherwise known as The Houses of Parliament, is also looking very last century indeed.

All it needs is for the half of the population who aren’t served by the current system to get together and bring it all tumbling down.

My son ate healthily - and then he started school

For the first five years of his life, my son ate a very healthy diet. It was vegetarian, mostly organic, was full of home-cooked meals with lots of fruit and veg and free of refined sugar, with the exception of the occasional chocolate, biscuit etc before bedtime.

I am not pretending this was easy or cheap. It involved time preparing meals and sourcing sugar-free cereals, baked beans, ketchup etc from health food shops (although most are now available online from Ocado).

We did it because we believed in giving our son a healthy start to life and setting good eating habits which he would hopefully carry through to adulthood (although we always understood there was a risk he would rebel as a teenager and go on a sugar and fast-food binge!).

And then he started school. I accepted his food would no longer be organic (a friend who moved to Italy told me all school meals in the region where she lived were organic), but what I was not prepared for was the complete sugar-fest we would encounter.

In his first week he came home with an empty packet of Haribos in his pocket. He had been given them to ‘celebrate’ another child’s birthday and the teacher hadn’t thought to check for gelatine even though we had told the school he was vegetarian and wasn’t to eat sweets.

There followed countless school activities and events where the children were ‘rewarded’ with sweets, chocolates and cakes. There appeared to be no awareness of the link between rewarding children with unhealthy food and emotional dependency on such food leading to obesity in later life.

The hypocrisy was breath-taking at times. The children would have lessons about not eating sugary food but would still be rewarded with it at every available occasion.

Having looked at the menu, we chose for my son not to have school dinners. To be honest, we didn’t have any choice as vegetarian meals were only offered on a couple of random days a week. And he at least avoided the sugary puddings which were given to the children every day (they need jam roly-poly for energy, we were told).

Instead, we provided my son with healthy, organic, sugar-free packed lunches but still got sent home patronising government leaflets telling us that school meals were better for our child.

My son does have school meals at the junior school he goes to now. They are better than the previous school’s, veggie options are available every day but they are still top-heavy with sugary puddings.

The School Food Plan announced today is obviously a step in the right direction and the move to limit fried foods and to make water the drink of choice (in my experience ‘squash’ is the drink of choice in schools and I’ve had to fight hard to get my son water instead) is to be welcomed. But it still only guarantees one of the five portions of fruit and veg recommended a day and, does little to limit the amount of red meat and processed meat being served and, as far as I can see, has no restriction on the amount of refined sugar in foods.

Unfortunately  my experience is that many of those in charge in school kitchens have very basic nutritional training and some rather out-dated ideas about cooking and presenting food. I know the pizzas aren’t healthy but Pizza Hut get children to eat salad but putting it in trendy salad bars and letting the kids pile it on (and I’m sure schools could provide sugar-free dressings to accompany it). A lot of children (mine included) prefer raw vegetables to cooked ones but still they insist boiling their veg when some raw vegetable batons with humous would provide a welcome alternative. My son loves raw red peppers. I don’t think he’s ever been offered them in school.

I appreciate Jamie Oliver isn’t on hand for every class but schools could ask parents to pass on healthy child-friendly recipes to the cook and involve the children in making their own fruity sugar-free puddings with natural yogurt and crunchy oat toppings. But that would involve admitting that they could do better and might be able to learn something from parents. And that seems to be something both the Department for Education and individual schools find very difficult to do.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T - how politicians can earn it

I’ve always really liked Ed Miliband. I was glad when he won the Labour leadership campaign, I think he is a genuinely good person, with genuinely decent values. And if the criteria for choosing the next Prime Minister was ‘which one of these people would you trust to raise your child?’ (which I can’t help thinking it ultimately should be), then with Caroline Lucas out of the way (she stepped down as Green Party Leader to allow another woman in her party to achieve a higher profile - can you imagine any male politician on earth doing that? She should be made Leader of the World, let alone Prime Minister), clearly he would be next in line.

And then someone asks him if he’ll pose with a copy of The Sun as a way of showing support for the England World Cup team.

He could have said, ‘No thanks, because there are hundreds of people in Liverpool still grieving for their loved ones and you compounded that grief with your irresponsible coverage of the Hillsborough disaster’. Or perhaps, ‘No thanks, your newspaper still thinks it is OK to publish photographs of topless women every day, and I don’t want my children growing up in a world like that, which is why I support the No More Page 3 campaign’. Or even ‘No thanks, I do believe your news organisation hacked a dead girl’s mobile phone and I find that morally reprehensible.’

Ed said none of those things. Instead, Ed said yes. And in doing so I’m afraid that not only has he upset most of Merseyside, an awful lot of women and many decent people who find News International’s ethics sadly wanting, he has, in my eyes at least, further dented the reputation of politicians in this country.

Because, and I’m aware this is incredibly idealistic, I want the politicians who run our country to put principles before votes, to demonstrate compassion at all times and never to think that offending the Murdoch empire would be a worse crime than remaining true to your beliefs and values.

For him to then apologise and say he ‘understands the anger’ felt on Merseyside, doesn’t make things any better, because clearly if he genuinely understood the anger felt on Merseyside, he’d have said no in the first place. And to claim he wasn’t offering his support to The Sun but showing his support for the England team (a scarf, Ed, a scarf would have done that) is, frankly, embarrassing.

I have never cared that he is portrayed in the media as ‘nerdy’ or ‘weird’. I loved it when he stood up to the Daily Mail over its appalling treatment of his late father and, in Miliband’s defence, I understand that the threat of being portrayed as ‘unpatriotic’ may have loomed large in his mind. But by saying ‘yes’ to The Sun he demonstrated not only a disregard for millions of people who find Page Three degrading and for the people of Liverpool, including his own MPs, who have campaigned tirelessly for justice for the Hillsborough 96, but also that his support can be counted on for a cynical PR opportunity, just like other politicians.

Of course, Cameron, Farage, Clegg and Boris were all photographed proudly brandishing the front page of The Sun too. The only difference being, no one expected any better of them.

And what politicians are still failing to grasp is that we would so like to expect better of them. Much better. One of the reasons I wrote my novel The Mummyfesto was because I was so disillusioned with the lack of compassion, morals and principles - and of course women - in mainstream politics.

The one thing I do know is that if anyone had asked Sam, Jackie or Anna, who set up the fictional Lollipop Party, to pose with a copy of The Sun, they would have had no hesitation in telling them where to stick it.

Maybe they would have lost a few votes by doing so. But you know what, people would have respected them for it. And right now, respect is in rather short supply in mainstream politics.

An Alternative Queen’s Speech - by the Lollipop Party

My government doesn’t have all the answers but we have lots of good ideas. We also know lots of people with a great deal of experience and expertise in various subjects. We will consult widely with charities, think-tanks, academia, unions and on-the-ground. We will not pretend to know it all.

None of us have any intention of:

*Buying a duck house or getting a moat installed

*Sleeping with anyone other than our partners (we don’t have time, let alone the inclination)

*Accepting money to ask questions in parliament (although bars of Green & Blacks chocolate wouldn’t go amiss)

*Charging £250,000 to come round for dinner at our place (a bottle of wine will do)

THE MUMMYFESTO

As a society, we treat our most vulnerable citizens; children, the elderly, those with disabilities etc, appallingly. We believe if we put this right, other things will follow.

We will adopt article 3 of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child which says ‘Everything we do must have the child’s best interest at heart’.

We aim to create a fairer society where wealth and power are more evenly distributed.

Skipping will also be actively encouraged.

We will set up mini-regional parliaments across the UK to make Government more family-friendly and help bring an end to adversarial, yah-boo party politics.

HEALTH

All hospices, including children’s hospices, to be fully government funded.

Children’s operations are not allowed to be cancelled within a week of the planned date and not more than once in total.

All hospitals to have a team of independent patient champions who will deal with complaints on the spot and ensure dignity/respect/privacy etc.

Government-funded company run by former young unemployed, selling healthy food, snacks and smoothies etc at kiosks and stalls throughout country, outside schools, high streets, shopping centres, train stations, football grounds etc, to help tackle obesity.

Massive fitness and exercise programme. All children to get the opportunity to try sports such as gymnastics, swimming, athletics, football, cricket, tennis etc (but not rugby because it’s bloody dangerous) and free training available if child shows promise.

Free fitness classes in parks/community centres for the elderly.

Mental health given the same funding and priority as physical health.

PREGNANCY/MATERNITY

One to one care available throughout pregnancy and first month after birth. Home births available to any woman who wants one. More midwife-led birth units set up so all women have a real choice.

Full maternity pay paid for 1 year (can be split between partners). Consequently no childcare needed for under ones.

Women have right to breastfeed anywhere (as in Scotland). Government-funded baby cafes in every town.

Loads of exercise classes for mums with crèches available or baby in buggies/car seats welcome.

EDUCATION

Scrap the national curriculum and SATS and give heads and teachers a lot more autonomy and pupils the chance to have their say about what they’d like to learn about.

Emphasis on exciting and stimulating children about their learning not inputting information. Education should not be ‘instructo’ meaning ‘building in’ but from Latin ‘educatio’ which means ‘drawing out’.

More flexible system of starting school and not until at least five. Parents to decide when their child is ready.

Maximum class sizes of 20 at primary school, 30 at secondary school.

Ofsted to be reformed and revert to previous inspection framework which looked at the care, guidance and support of children. The most important thing for parents is that their child is HAPPY at school. Reformed Ofsted to inspect schools with no notice. More weight given to parents’ views.

Secondary school children will learn about budgeting, running a home, parenting skills and dealing with family conflict. Children will be taught Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy and mediation and counselling skills so they are more able to cope when bad things happen to them.

Enshrine in law the right of every child to be safe from bullying, violence and the fear of violence by their peers as well as from abuse by adults.

All schools to have independently appointed Children’s Champions to stand up for the rights and well-being of children and deal with complaints and concerns.

Schools to employ highly trained play workers and child behaviour specialists (instead of lunchtime supervisors on the minimum wage) for playground duty in an effort to put an end to bullying.

Britain’s schools to become secular. No preaching/acts of worship (with the possible exception of Harvest Festivals which are a good way of emptying out unwanted tins from kitchen cupboards).

All schools to have an outdoor classroom and an accessible ‘green’ area where they can learn about the environment. More Forest Schools set up.

SOCIAL CARE

Free personal care for the elderly.

More unannounced inspections of care/nursing homes and a hotline/website for whistle blowers to report concerns in complete confidence.

National programme of better diagnosis, care, staff training and support for those with dementia.

Closure of private children’s homes with all children in care to be looked after in the public sector, with tough regulation and on-the-sport checks. Independent Childrens’ Champions appointed to ensure children in care properly looked after. No looked after children forced to live more than 15 miles away from area they consider ‘home’ unless for their safety.

Proper care packages and support in place for looked after children up until age of 21.

FAMILY FRIENDLY/ PARENTING

Term-time, school hours working available to all (paid pro-rata).

Parenting drop-in centres in Sure Start centres, on the high street, in supermarkets, schools, libraries etc where parents can get advice and find out more about different parenting strategies.

CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

All the projects you see on Children in Need fully funded by the Government. It’s shaming for our society that we need to beg for stuff for disabled/disadvantaged kids and Sir Terry Wogan needs to finally be put out to grass.

Children’s party bags replaced with ‘thank you for coming’ stickers, thus cutting down the amount of plastic rubbish ending up in landfill and teaching children to enjoy the experience rather than be focussed on what they get at the end of it.

National programme to tackle the causes of self-harm and help prevent it.

Opportunities for all young people to be involved in sport and the arts to enable them to find something they have a passion/talent for. All families given vouchers for 5-18-year-olds to receive two hours a week free classes.

JUSTICE

We will remove the defence of ‘chastisement’ for assaulting a child cases.

Separate women friendly courts for rape and sexual assault cases, all involved specially trained. Evidence about previous sexual conduct inadmissible. Courts cannot jail women for withdrawing allegations.

Complete change in domestic violence policy giving it a much higher priority and funding and all cases dealt with by specially trained courts and staff. All victims given 24-hour support.

Independent inquiry into levels of male violence against women. Women’s refuges will be government funded

The White Ribbon Campaign which works to educate boys and men not to perpetrate or condone violence against women to be government funded and work in all schools.

Massive programme of drug/alcohol rehabilitation and mental health support for offenders.

No custodial sentences for driving offences, simply lengthy driving bans (automatic 10 years for drink/drug driving, dangerous driving and anyone going more than fifty percent over the speed limit), and in serious death and injury cases, a lifetime driving bans. Custodial sentences only if offenders then defy those bans.

GOVERNMENT/CONSTITUTION

The Houses of Parliament replaced by a network of 10 video-linked regional parliament buildings in major cities; London, Bristol, Norwich, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow, Belfast (all with excellent shopping facilities). We believe the Government should be less London-centric and represent the whole of the UK.

This system of mini regional parliaments would allow more women/parents to become MPs (currently only 22%) as they could still remain living in their constituencies and not have to either uproot their families to go to London or leave them for five days a week. The parliaments would meet during school hours and term-times only.

Houses of Lords abolished. The royal family to be privatised and the money saved used to publicly fund the Air Ambulance, the RNLI, Mountain Rescue and all hospices.

DEFENCE POLICY

Don’t start any wars. Just have a peacekeeping force. No one seems to bother Switzerland.

Scrap Trident replacement and entire nuclear deterrent.

MISCELLANEOUS

Massive increase in number of public toilets. All public toilets to be free. National network of kiddie portaloos in town centres and along main roads.

Toy manufacturers producing pink and blue versions of the same items and toy sellers whose shops are predominantly pink and blue named and shamed on a website for ‘crimes against gender stereotyping’ and boycotted.

National newspapers choosing to carry photos of topless women have to carry a ‘degrading to women’ banner across their masthead.

A new English flag showing a cup of tea and a biscuit for those who want to be patriotic but distance themselves from the BNP.

A new national anthem which is a medley of 1)All You Need is Love – The Beatles; 2) The Green Green Grass of Home – Tom Jones, 3) I Would Walk 500 Miles – The Proclaimers and 4) Teenage Kicks – The Undertones.

Remembering the remarkable parents who cope - and those who don’t

For any parent, the idea that you may one day be accused of killing three of your children is both abhorrent and unthinkable.

But it is also unthinkable to imagine being told that three of your children have a life-limiting disease which may well rob you of them before they reach double figures.

That is what happened to Tania Clarence, who appeared in court today charged with murdering her four-year-old daughter and three-year-old twin sons. Clearly, taking the life of a child is wrong. There are no exceptions to that and no excuses for it. I certainly would never condone it.

But I do think there are bigger questions to be asked here about how we, as a society, support parents of children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions.

When I was researching my novel The Mummyfesto, one of the most difficult things I had to do was to decide which life-limiting or life-threatening condition Oscar, Sam’s youngest son, suffered with.

I spent a tearful couple of days watching videos on You Tube – many of which had Coldplays’s Fix You as the backing track – of parents with children suffering from various diseases, illnesses and conditions. And, of course, the truly heartbreaking thing is that none of those parents could ‘fix’ their children.

I chose Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) as the condition which Oscar suffered from because, of all the terrible diseases out there, it seemed particularly cruel. SMA is an inherited neuromuscular condition causing weakness of the muscles. It affects approximately 1 in 6,000 to 10,000 babies born. When both parents carry a faulty copy of the disease gene, there is a 1 in 4 chance in each pregnancy of the baby being affected. Which is how Tania Clarence and her husband came to have one healthy child and their second child was diagnosed while she was pregnant with twins, who were later also diagnosed with SMA. Babies with type 1 SMA do not normally survive past two years. In cases of SMA type 2, which Oscar had, the baby is born and appears to be a perfectly healthy, normal baby. The parents mark off the milestones as any parents do. And then, at some point between three months and two years, they stop reaching milestones. They stop being able to do things other children their age can do. Some children still manage to live fulfilling lives and can survive into adulthood. Others, like Oscar, do not.

Children’s hospices across the UK do a fantastic job caring for children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions and their families. But, of course, they survive purely on charitable donations. Only a tiny percentage of their funding comes from the Government. Every year at Children In Need time we see these children and their families on TV. We cry, we thank God it is not happening to our child, we (hopefully) donate some money. And then we tend to forget about them for another year.

Only for the parents of such children, there is no chance to forget. They wake every morning in the knowledge that their child will die before them and they go to sleep every night (if they are lucky enough to get some sleep) knowing that will never change. Sometimes they see their child going through enormous suffering and in great pain. And yet somehow they are supposed to be able to cope with that. Often with little, if any, support.

Remarkably, most of the time, these parents do cope. But, occasionally, they do not.

So let’s make sure we think about these families more than just once a year. That we support children’s hospices on a regular basis, we campaign for politicians to provide the state funding that these essential services surely deserve. And we understand that sometimes, parenting is far, far harder than most of us, thankfully, will ever realise.

For more information about SMA and to donate contact The Jennifer Trust for Spinal Muscular Atrophy www.JTSMA.org.uk.

Donations can also be made to Together for Short Lives, the association for children’s hospices www.togetherforshortlives.org.uk

Women in politics - still a work of fiction

Sometimes a picture really can tell a thousand words. Or in my case, 108,398. A year ago The Mummyfesto was published. It told the story of three ordinary women who decided to set up a family-friendly political party because they, like me, were so disillusioned about mainstream politics and the men in suits who dominated it.

A year on, this is where we are at. David Cameron’s all-male front bench at Prime Minister’s Questions today http://bbc.in/1br0Jh8

It’s not in the least bit surprising, of course. But it does succinctly sum up the problem politics faced back then and the problem it still faces today. It is a problem which is clearly not going to go away either. Sure, more female-only shortlists would help, but that is only tinkering with the problem at one end, and as a rash of resignations and announcements from standing female MPs that they will not be seeking re-election shows, appointing women in only half of the battle.

The fact is, being an MP is not a particularly attractive job prospect for many women. You have got to spend four days a week in London and if your family happens to live in Sunderland, well, that’s just hard luck. Even if you did want to uproot your family and take them with you, there is no House of Commons creche and breast feeding in the chamber is simply unheard of. The hours are not flexible or family-friendly and if you’re a mum, you can wave goodbye to reading bedtime stories or making it to your child’s parents’ evening.

You will be heckled in the chamber by boorish men and have to put up with patronising cries of, ‘calm down, love’, from, of all people, the Prime Minister. You will be attacked in the media, mainly for the way you look. More column inches will be devoted to your footwear than your policies. Your private life will no longer be private, your family could well be the subject of derogatory articles, as they will be considered fair game by the media. Tempted to apply yet? No, I didn’t think so.

In The Mummyfesto, my characters, helped by women across the UK, came up with a list of policies which would radically change the way parliament worked:

  • The Houses of Parliament replaced with a network of regional mini-parliaments, allowing more women to consider standing because they wouldn’t have to up-root or leave their families.
  • Parliament would sit in school hours in term-time, rather than have long, late night sessions.
  • All regional parliaments would be electronically linked. The adversarial system of opposing government benches, which encourage the yah-boo politics so hated by the electorate, would be replaced with members speaking in turn from around the country, thus enabling a more collegiate approach - something women would relish.
  • Each mini-parliament would have a creche and breast-feeding would, of course, be allowed.
  • Votes could be cast electronically and it wouldn’t matter if your six-year-old was off school poorly that day, you could still listen to the debate and cast your vote.
  • This system would allow all MPs to live in the constituency they represent, connecting them with voters and putting an end once-and-for-all to expenses scandals.

Sound more appealing? I think so. I suspect millions of women would do too. Unfortunately for them, The Mummyfesto was a work of fiction. It’s far too radical to be allowed to happen in real life. Traditionalists would object. The Establishment would object. The men in suits in charge simply wouldn’t allow it, they have far too much to lose.

So for now, you’ll just have to read The Mummyfesto if you want to be transported to a parallel universe where half of the population could be properly represented in parliament.

No doubt the few female members of the cabinet will be prominently positioned on the Government’s front bench for PMQs next week. But in May next year we’ll all get our chance to vote in the General Election. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll make our voices heard.

 

Children In Need - of a government who cares

Children in Need - of a government who cares.

Children in Need is a national embarrassment. I’m not talking about an ageing male presenter being paired with a succession of attractive younger women during the broadcast (the Beeb have form on this one - think Bruce and Tess etc), I’m talking about the fact that we need it at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of it and yes, we’ve been baking buns and will be donning spotty costumes on Friday and donating as we always do. But every year I also find myself asking the question - why doesn’t the government fund these children’s services we are raising money for?

A quick look through the projects in my area, the north of England, which are being funded by Children In Need reveals the following:

  • support/respite care for young carers
  • swimming lessons for children with disabilities
  • counselling for children who have suffered sexual violence
  • a safe place for children who are at risk of sexual exploitation
  • support for young disabled children to access public transport
  • a support worker for children who have escaped domestic violence
  • a bereavement support service for young people
  • a sibling support worker at a children’s hospice
  • a helpline for children and young people contemplating suicide

We are not talking about nice little add-ons, an extra outing here and there, we are talking about providing a safe place for children at risk of sexual exploitation, of helping traumatised children and potentially saving their lives.

Clearly the Government - not just this government but previous ones - feels none of these projects are worthy of public money, otherwise they would have funded them. Well I would challenge any MP to tell me what it is our taxes are paying for that is more important than any of these things.

Because at the moment the message we are sending out to our most vulnerable children is that we, as a society, don’t think they are important enough to help, but hopefully some people will shave their heads, sit in baths of baked beans and bake cakes to make sure they get the help they need.

Yes, I know it’s a time of austerity but children are bearing the brunt of that as well, what with Sure Start centres closing, the so-called bedroom tax putting children at risk of homelessness and increasing numbers of children relying on food banks for their meals. What  more important time is there to ensure that helping and protecting vulnerable and disadvantaged children is at the top of our political agenda?

I was inspired to write my novel The Mummyfesto, about three ordinary mums who decide to set up a child-friendly political party and stand in the general election, because I was so incensed at how children appear to be bottom of the list of priorities for the Government.

My characters came up with policies which included fully-funding children’s hospices and all the projects supported by Children in Need and ensuring children’s operations aren’t cancelled at short notice.

I’ve had a huge response from readers who not only enjoyed the book but wished there was a real life Lollipop Party campaigning for children.

But of course, children don’t have a vote, so their voices remain largely unheard. That’s why they’re easy victims for cut-backs and why it’s so important that we, as parents, stand up for their rights.

And being kept safe and being offered help after incredibly traumatic experiences are rights, not privileges. Which is why I’m asking that when you sit there bawling your eyes out as you watch stories of the incredibly brave youngsters Children in Need is helping, you do more than just donate money this year.

After you’ve made your donation you also go on social media sites and email your MP to say how sickened you are that politicians don’t deem these children worthy of your taxes.

And then maybe one day something will change and we’ll be watching Bankers In Need instead. Although whether we’ll be quite so generous remains to be seen.

Let’s Value Working Mums - Not Drive Them Out

The fact that a new survey shows more than a quarter of mothers in the UK feel discriminated against at work, is disappointing but unfortunately not at all surprising.

Government ministers have been quick to point out that there is legislation in place which makes it illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant or on maternity leave. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or that in many cases employers make life so difficult for pregnant women and working mums that they feel they have no option but to leave.

On the day I announced I was getting married, my line manager complained that I and another recently engaged woman would be off having babies in no time. It was actually eight years before I had a child. And during that time I’d seen enough women struggle during pregnancy and on returning to work that I’d decided to leave and become self-employed before starting a family.

Women needing time off because of acute morning sickness were grumbled about in the office. When the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to hospital with morning sickness there was much public sympathy. But working women often find their employers far from sympathetic.

I saw women returning to work being told they could not work part-time - even four days a week - if they wanted to return to their present position. There is still a culture of presenteeism in the workplace which means that part-time workers - most of them women - are regarded as second class members of the workforce.

The fact that many mums can  achieve as much if not more in four days than many workers achieve during five is overlooked by employers. Thirty five per cent of mums surveyed thought they worked harder since having children and they probably do because the pressure is on to prove themselves.

Seventy per cent of mothers questioned in the survey by legal firm Slater and Gordon hadn’t made a complaint about the unfair treatment they suffered, which again is not surprising.

The current economic climate has increased the sense that you are ‘lucky to have a job’ and women don’t want to rock the boat, lose their job or be labelled as a whinger.

When I carried out the research for my novel The Mummyfesto - about three women who decide to stand for parliament on a family-friendly platform, a huge percentage of the policy suggestions made via social networks concerned improvements needed for working parents.

They were not unreasonable demands; better maternity and paternity leave, flexible and term-time working to be available for all, proper parental leave.

It is not about working parents wanting to shirk their responsibilities or put their children first. It’s about having a society that values parents and also values them as loyal, hard-working employees. And if businesses think it’s better to drive working mums out rather than retain their skills and expertise by improving their family-friendly policies, then clearly those businesses are not going to go very far.

We all have a responsibility to tackle the sort of workplace culture which discriminates against pregnant women and working parents. But there needs to be recognition of the fact that complaining about discrimination to your employers is too difficult. Having an independent body to whom complaints could be made and then  investigated, and which challenged companies to demonstrate their family-friendly credentials would be a huge step forward.

If companies, big and small, were given a family-friendly star rating, that would go a long way to changing the culture and encouraging employers to see the benefits of attracting and retaining loyal, talented and hard-working parents.

 

 

Why The Merida Makeover Matters

Sometimes little things matter. Because little things add up to big things and if we don’t fight the little things, the big things then become insurmountable problems.

Disney has given Merida, the feisty heroine of the film Brave, a makeover prior to her official induction to the Disney Princess collection.

Gone is the lovely round face and girlish looks, replaced by a slimmer, sexier, sultry-looking Merida.

The big question is why? Who is demanding this makeover? Did children not like the original Merida? Did they not take her to their hearts as a loveable, flawed character they could actually relate to? Or was it simply the decision of someone high-up in marketing that the makeover was necessary because she had to conform to the ridiculously narrow definition of what a Disney Princess should look like?

Clearly this decision wasn’t taken because children were asking for it – and yet it is children who will suffer the consequences. Young girls who are already bombarded with media images of stick-thin celebrities and have to grow-up in a highly sexualised culture, will now have another impossibly-perfect supposed role-model thrust upon them. And they will know she has been changed because she didn’t look right. Because she didn’t ‘fit in’. What kind of message does that send to them?

It matters that they are constantly told that this is the only way to look, that anything less than perfect is undesirable. We know it matters from the number of young girls with eating disorders, who self-harm, who obsess about their weight and who have chronically low levels of self-esteem because they don’t fit that narrow definition of what is desirable.

It matters for boys too. Because they are growing-up receiving this same message about what girls should look like and what is desirable and so the myth is perpetuated.

Children come in all shapes and sizes and complete with all sorts of imperfections. If someone at Disney was brave enough to recognise this, they might just have a much bigger merchandising hit on their hands. And if parents are brave enough to sit down and explain to their children why they won’t be buying the Merida merchandise – we might just get Disney to take notice. And to get our children thinking about the far more important qualities we should be looking for in our role-models. Qualities which have nothing to do with what they look like.

Please join me and sign the Change.org petition by A Mighty Girl to stop the Merida Makeover http://chn.ge/17DZLQC

 

Why Children are the only victims here

 

 

When I was growing up my mum tried to avoid listening to or watching the news because she found it too upsetting. Whereas I’ve always had the view that it’s our duty to know what it going on in the world and to speak out against it if we don’t like it.

But on days like today when the headlines concern numerous stories of little girls and young women being raped, abducted, abused and murdered, it does indeed make for very uncomfortable listening.

And yet somewhere in the midst of all this comes a voice which, instead of condemning the male perpetrators of child sexual abuse, claims that they are the ones being persecuted and that the law should be changed to protect them from prosecution.

Eminent barrister Barbara Hewson told online magazine Spiked that the age of consent should be lowered to 13 to end the ‘persecution of old men’.

Her remarks came after a number of high-profile arrests over allegations of historical sexual offences in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Among those to have been convicted is former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who admitted 14 charges of indecently assaulting girls, including one aged nine, between 1967 and 1985.

Ms Hewson described Hall’s crimes as “low-level misdemeanours” which “ordinarily… would not be prosecuted”.

She said that “touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt” are not crimes comparable to gang rapes and murders and “anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality”.

Actually it’s the perpetrators who have lost touch with reality. When I worked as a journalist I once interviewed an expert who worked to rehabilitate child sex offenders and one of the hardest jobs he had was to get them to stop normalising their behaviour.

For a grown man to kiss a 13-year-old girl or put his hand up her skirt is not normal or acceptable. It wasn’t in the seventies, it’s not now and it never will be. The age of consent is there to protect children and any move to lower it to prevent elderly men being prosecuted for abusing girls years ago is effectively an attempt to make child abuse legal.

As a journalist I covered many cases of child sex abuse and rape. Sometimes it had taken years for the victims to come forward. The fact that the perpetrators were by that time pensioners didn’t make what they had done right. It simply meant that the law had taken a very long time to catch up with them.

They are not deserving of our sympathy. That should be reserved for the victims who have been through a terrifying ordeal and somehow found the courage to come forward and report it.

We as a society must start to listen to children, to create a climate where they feel able to report things and never make them feel they are to blame or are somehow responsible for what has happened to them.

Comments like Ms Hewson’s set that process back a long way. It’s up to us not to put our heads in the sand, however uncomfortable these stories are, but to speak out and make it very clear exactly who the victims are here.

http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13604/