There is no doubt a universal basic income could help make society more equal. There is a particular group that often gets overlooked, for whom it would be especially life-changing. Mothers. In funding terms, they are often regarded as a niche category – a representative of a grant giving organisation told me recently that they would never be ‘a priority issue’ unless there was a risk to their offspring’s lives. I struggle with this attitude.
Yes, I do know fathers are immensely important too, many working equally hard and needing support, but it is women who carry and birth the children and the majority of the work raising them.  Much of mothers’ work is unpaid and unseen, yet it keeps society going. Those who state that it is ‘a woman’s choice’ to have a child would do well to remember that ‘other people’s children’ are not raised in isolation, they are the next generation who will work, care for their fellow citizens and crucially pay their taxes.
If you are reading this and thinking it doesn’t concern you because you are not one, remember that every person on the planet has, or had, a mother. This is not in any way meant to denigrate women who are not mothers, either through choice or circumstance. It is not that mothers are superior citizens, superhuman beings who rank higher than everyone else, but very often their needs are not met at all. When they are not met, nor are those of the family. The impact on children includes emotional & behavioural problems and special educational needs (i). There is a detrimental impact on a partner’s mental health, as well as causing financial problems (ii,iii).
I became involved in Basic Income South East recently, based in Brighton. Obviously because of Covid-19, basic income has become an immensely hot topic as we can see what a harsh, unfair society we live in. Those who should be the most valued and cherished are not. Our efforts to contain and slow the spread of the coronavirus have social consequences such as loss of income for many people and mothers, often on a career break raising their children, are likely to fall outside the remit of one of the financial bailouts.
I set up Mothers Uncovered as a project for my charity Livestock in 2008 as a result of my own experiences of feeling panicky and alone. We provide creative peer support groups for mostly new, isolated mums to highlight the importance of and address post-natal mental health. All our activities are run by past participants. The women that attend our groups are not wealthy. They are struggling to make ends meet. Many have no choice but to go back to paid work when they don’t feel ready. They want to contribute to society, but raising their children is also contributing to society.
A few years back I became an advocate for maternal mental health. Mostly because women are often told to keep quiet when they speak and mothers, even more so. As part of this I set up a petition, which includes a call for greater investment into peer support measures as this is often the best way to support mums (and it’s cheaper!). Inadequate maternal care costs the UK £8bn [iv] a year, with a comparatively modest £337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to close the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures?
Many women experience post-natal depression (PND) and a lot suffer in silence. With suicide as the leading cause of maternal death, too many women are falling through the cracks as their physical and emotional needs go unmet. Why are so many mothers suffering? It often starts with a traumatic birth, which can have a long-term impact on mental health. Secondly, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) and those with PND (perceived as a small proportion). You need to be referred for treatment by a health professional for PND. There is a shaming stigma of ‘not coping’ and many women do not identify themselves as ‘depressed’.
Thirdly, many women feel they have no one to talk to. They know how lucky they are to be mothers, so repeatedly deny any of their own needs to the point when they are in a desperate state. Many mum and baby groups are informal drop-ins in which other mothers may appear to be coping much better. Courses in Children’s Centres are usually run by a health professional, which can create an ‘us and them’ atmosphere.
In matrescence (which is a term coined nearly fifty years ago to describe the transition into motherhood), it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. Mothers Uncovered helps hundreds of women with our groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. Participants quickly open up as they realise they are not the only ones struggling, they start to take ownership of their lives and decisions. Many women say we have quite literally, ‘saved their lives.’ Of course it is essential to have the statutory services there; women are very grateful for the care the NHS provides. However, a lot of women would never get to the stage of severe PND if the right support were there in the first place and if peer support services were given better backing, then the massive burden on the NHS would ease.
A basic income would give mothers a small breathing space to concentrate on raising their children in the best way possible, and them both being as happy and healthy as possible. Being sick with worry is not good for them, or their children. The children that will grow up and carry the world forward.
Petition for greater maternal support
i. Boath EH, Pryce AJ, Cox JL. Postnatal depression: The impact on the family. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology. 1998.
ii. Burke L. The impact of maternal depression on familial relationships. International Review of Psychiatry. 2003.
iii. Chew-Graham CA, Sharp D, Chamberlain E, Folkes L, Turner KM. Disclosure of symptoms of postnatal depression, the perspectives of health professionals & women. BMC Fam Pract. 2009.
iv. Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2014