By Robert Verkaik Law Editor
Men must do more to help ease the domestic burden shouldered by women, Cherie Blair has told a conference on the family and the future role of carers.
Mrs Blair, who once said that she felt she might fall off the “tightrope” when balancing her career with her family life, called for more support for mothers who still hold down jobs.
She told the London conference, which was organ-ised by the left- of-centre think-tank, Demos, that mothers remained the “primary parent” responsible for “buying children’s presents and clothes, making sure the fridge was stocked or writing Christmas cards”. “A baby is born. A child develops a high fever. The boiler breaks down. A parent suffers a stroke. These are the everyday events that throw a working woman’s delicate balance between work and family into chaos,” said Mrs Blair.
This is not the first time Mrs Blair, a judge, high-profile barrister and mother of four, has complained about men not doing their fair share of housework.
In 2003 she told a conference on women’s and human rights in Australia that more women worked than ever before but they still shouldered the burden of housework and child care. In an aside to the audience she said: “I am always quite astonished when I read surveys about how many hours [of housework] men are supposed to do, because in my experience they don’t do any at all.”
Mrs Blair said yesterday it was time to lift the “glass ceiling” in the home, where women are held back under the burden of their chores and responsibility for children and elderly parents.
“That’s life, we tell each other,” she said. But care, she argued, can no longer be considered a private matter. “We need to find ways to make the invisible visible, to uncover and celebrate the value of unpaid work.” She pointed to the cost to society when things went wrong at home. “Think of the growing number of children in care, the millions of pounds spent on the youth justice system. This is because the care work that takes place in families has a wider social value.”
Women “sandwiched” between caring for elderly relatives and dependent children risk losing out on earnings that they will need to support their own retirement, she warns. Nevertheless, she praised her husband’s Government for “acting to help overcome these challenges”.
But she adds: “The current reliance on this kind of informal care is unlikely to be sustainable. One way, of course, of finding a long- term solution to these challenges is by involving fathers more in care.”
She points to a “quiet revolution” among men who increasingly want to play an active role in their children’s care.
“The Government has begun to talk about the importance of men’s role as active fathers, not just as breadwinners. It has introduced supportive legislation such as two weeks’ statutory paternity leave. But society will need to do more in the future to help them.”
In the absence of policies specifically targeted at “helping and supporting fathers”, the traditional gender divide will be reinforced, she says.
“Due to the stubborn pay gap, inflexible working patterns and an entrenched working culture, men will end up remaining in the workplace rather than sharing caring responsibilities at home.”
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