Worrying About The Cost Of Childcare Is The Most Relatable Thing Boris Johnson Has Ever Done

That said, do we really want him googling ’how do I apply for tax-free childcare’ when he should be looking at Chris Whitty’s scary graphs?

Boris johnson childcare

by Rebecca Holman |
Updated on

Boris Johnson is broke. To add to his many woes (most of which, unfortunately are the nation’s woes), he’s also got money worries. According to reports surfacing this weekend, his Prime Minister’s salary of £150,000 doesn’t quite cut it now that he’s unable to triple his winnings with his Daily Telegraph column, book deals and various other money spinners that are deemed an inappropriate conflict of interests for a Prime Minister.

As well as the fact that he’s just emerged from an expensive divorce to his second wife Marina Wheeler and is said to still be financially supporting ‘four out of six’ of his children, he’s said to be concerned that he and his fiancee, Carrie Symmonds won’t be able to afford a nanny for their five-month-old son Wilfred. Speaking to the Times, an ally of Johnson’s said: 'He doesn't have a housekeeper, he has a single cleaner and they're worried about being able to afford a nanny. He's stuck in the flat and Downing Street is not a nice place to live.’

Much has been said on social media about the fact that no-one's got a lot of sympathy for Boris Johnson (who fought for years to become his dream job, Prime Minister and may or may not be doing a great job of it depending on your political allegiances) or the belief that £150k isn't a decent salary. But beyond all that, I found it interesting in the ways it shines a light on childcare.

On one hand, this tells us everything we need to know about the childcare crisis in the UK - the fact that the Prime Minister on a six-figure salary (his earnings make him just shy of the top 1% of earners in the country) can’t afford high-quality, at-home childcare mirrors the fact that the rest of us can barely manage to find the spare cash for full time nursery fees (a 2018 study estimated that full-time childcare for two children ate up 55% of the average couple's earnings in the UK). Weirdly it’s the most relatable thing that’s ever happened to Boris Johnson

On the other, are (his own) childcare issues really what we want the Prime Minister to be thinking about at the moment? Maybe right now, as we teeter on the verge of a second-wave of Coronavirus infections, we’d like him to be able to shake off the worries that plague the rest of us and focus on the big stuff. I don’t want to worry about whether our testing capacity will see us through the winter months and flu season - I’d like him to do that. If anyone’s going to stay awake at night worrying about our economy it’s him - it’s what he’s paid the medium-sized bucks to do, after all.

In fact, in my opinion, if anyone’s got a free pass to swerve some of the performative ‘I’m a hands-on dad’ stuff right now it’s Boris Johnson. It’s like earlier this year when he gave an interview with the Mail On Sunday where he performed some push ups to prove that he was ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ and in response to a question about whether he was doing the night feeds, said he was ‘both present and involved in a detailed way,’ which I think we can all take to mean that no, Boris Johnson isn’t doing the hellish 5AM feed where you’re never sure if your baby is going to go back to sleep or if no, that’s just it, you’re up for the day.

But the question is, why would we expect him to? Why do we ask this question of powerful people (men) when it makes no sense? Speaking as someone who has just emerged from nine months of night time feeds, night time nappy changes, night time pacing up and down a very dark room at 3AM while your baby wails, an extended period of broken sleep is exhausting and totally screws with your ability to function cognitively. And when you’re off work on maternity leave that’s mostly ok. You might walk into the supermarket and have no idea why you’re there, or spend 15 minutes looking for your parked car on the wrong road, but on an average day, you probably don’t have to make multiple decisions quickly, process and analyse lots of new information or have to sit through endless Zoom calls without falling asleep. So you just muddle through it.

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In theory, Boris Johnson has to do all of the above, and then some, before the rest of us have had breakfast. Now, more than ever, we need him to do it well, we need to him to make decisions quickly, be intellectually agile and remain on top of huge amounts of detail. Whether you think he is or not is another matter, but when we know that lack of sleep can affect our memory, concentration and in some cases is comparable to being drunk, I think we should all be encouraging the guy to hit the spare room with a set of earplugs and a white noise machine.

I have just finished a nine-month period of maternity leave, during which I did almost all of the night-time wake ups with my son. Now I’m back at work, and my husband is doing the last three months of parental leave, the deal is that he gets up in the night, and I get up with our son in the morning and give him his breakfast before I start work, which means my husband gets a lie in or some time to himself before another day of childcare. No-one would be applauding me if I insisted on still getting up in the night, I’d be absolutely knackered and frankly, worse at my job.

And while we're here, maybe we need to stop pretending that doing a night feed or changing a nappy is, in itself, a shortcut to being a good father or a good husband, because it isn’t. It feels a bit old fashioned, a bit 90s, a throwback to an era where being a ‘hands-on dad’ was suddenly cool, but no-one had any idea what that meant or how to do it.

So if it seems insane to me to expect the Prime Minister, in the midst of a major global crisis to get up in the night to change a nappy when there’s another parent in the house to do it (and equally, I also hope New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden who I think we can all agree is doing a great job, is letting her husband pick up the night-time childcare slack right now), why do we still ask the question as though it tells us something about our Prime Minister’s modernity, commitment to equality or commitment to his latest progeny? It’s a total red herring. Equally, as much as we're all lolling at the idea of Boris Actual Johnson trying to work out tax breaks for employing a nanny on the back of a fag packet, I really, want his mind to be focused on the matter at hand.

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