School closures force parents to choose between family and work

Emma Jacobs:

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The economy is open! From July 4, schoolchildren can spend all day in pub beer gardens, go to the cinema and shop in Primark. What most of them can’t do is go to school. That puts many parents in an impossible situation of choosing between work or family.

It’s not just the UK. In the US, food writer, Deb Perelman, tweeted: “I wish someone would just say the quiet part loud: In the Covid economy, you’re only allowed a kid OR a job.”

School closures will expand inequality among children. So too among parents. In the UK, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that “mothers are more likely to have quit or lost their job, or to have been furloughed, since the start of the lockdown”.

The pandemic has illuminated stark differences between working parents. Those with live-in nannies, or partnered with a stay-at-home parent are freer to work than single parents. So too were those with older children versus parents of infants.

The nonsense of the shared experience of working parents was brought home to one friend. Sitting between a three year-old and five-year-old, she video-called her manager who empathised with the problems of sharing a workspace with kids. The camera panned out to reveal two willowy undergraduate daughters surrounded by textbooks. They were not in it together after all.

Then there are the differences between fee-paying and state schools. While the government has declared schools will be fully open in September, one mother of two, who is struggling to keep her business afloat, reports her state school told her January is more realistic for full-time schooling. “I feel physically sick,” she says. “It’s impossible, I am quietly incandescent.”