We ask Katy Clark MP is the commons family friendly?

Women’s Parliamentary Radio

For immediate release
December 18th 2010
In 2011 we ask is the Commons family friendly? Katy Clark MP who is juggling a new baby and a demanding job says there’s room for improvement!

Katy Clark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran since 2005 has an 18 month-old-daughter, took maternity leave, and quite often uses colleagues to hold her daughter while she pops into the Chamber to vote. Katy tells Women’s Parliamentary Radio about her “two-lives” with a constituency that is 400 miles and a five hour journey from Westminster and a job that is a “vocation”.

Katy doesn’t think the further reforms of the Commons hours suggested by Green MP Caroline Lucas would help her but she says it may help those living nearer to London. She says the “costs” of child-care are “considerable” and difficult to manage! Katy told our Executive Producer Boni Sones OBE how she juggles work and home life:

“I’ve tried to minimise the travelling for my daughter, so she spends half her time in London and half in Scotland, I sometimes go up and down every week but she doesn’t! I had a child relatively late in life and I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible so therefore you do run yourself ragged to minimise the time you are away from her. You do spend your time rushing from one thing to another.

“I was a person who always worked seven days a week in a large geographical constituency. Maybe I am using my time more wisely, and I am more efficient now, but I just can’t put the hours in I used to. “
Katy said the Labour Whips helped her take time off before her first vote back in the Commons when her daughter was just three weeks old:

“Having her here I get less work done, so as much as possible she is not here. The Labour whips were wonderful and I was very impressed with the fact I was allowed time off the whip and didn’t have to be here for a considerable period of time. But you still have emails and your constituency work and nobody else can construct a letter with your views, so you have to continue at some level, all the way through the process. I also started to do constituency work again after about a month, attending events and seeing constituents.

“The first time I voted she was three weeks old, and I came down overnight to vote and I left her for less than 24 hours.”

Katy said MPs do have to provide and sometimes pay for two sets of child-care to fulfil their role as an MP and that’s tough:

“Representing a Scottish constituency which is so geographically distant from Westminster, you really do have two lives, it is the only way you can do it, and that means you have two sites for childcare arrangements and it gets complicated and expensive.”

She said she didn’t think further reform of the Commons hours, as some are suggesting, would be helpful to her, but it may help others living near to London, and that the cost of childcare was the real issue:

“The Caroline Lucas reforms – the hours have always been a problem, many women MPs have been taking up this issue for many years. There have been changes to the hours, and I think we have gone backwards again since May under the Coalition government, because we are having more late nights than ever before and more irregular hours. Sometimes we only find out what we are doing on the day that is difficult when you have childcare arrangements that have to be made. A more sensible arrangement is needed not just for childcare reasons but because it is more sane to the outside world as well.”

Katy said the new 1 Parliament Street Commons crèche was helpful but that the costs were still prohibitive. However, colleagues were used to holding her daughter while she voted:

“The crèche in Parliament Street is symbolically incredibly important, by saying children are welcome here, but it is only part of the solution because you can’t keep young children here until eleven at night, it is not OK on a daily basis. The reality is we still can’t take young children through the voting lobbies, that may come. We can still bring our children here on a Friday to maximise our contact with the children and we often leave them with a friendly MP for a moment while we go to vote.

“However we do the job, we are going to have to put in long hours and represent far flung communities. I was in after nine today, my first Select Committee was just after ten and the Chamber will go on until after ten tonight. You can change the way that the place works but perhaps it is not really doable unless you work until late at night.”

She said her beliefs and convictions made the job and juggling work and home-life really worth-while but again stressed that the cost of childcare may prohibit some women from becoming an MP in the first place:

“I wanted to keep a set of values alive, what keeps me going is what I believe in politically. We live in an incredibly unfair society where the wealth and power is very unequally divided and I think it is exceptionally important that women get involved and articulate a very different way of running the World, it’s not the hours but the cost of childcare that is the issue for me.

“The cost of being an MP is a huge worry because you have two lives and two sets of childcare, I have considerable family support, and I don’t need to pay for childcare in Scotland, it would be incredibly difficult if I was, the figures wouldn’t add up. Women who have children should be able to represent the communities that they live in. The crèche is £1,300 a month full time – with a 52 weeks a year contract and you have childcare elsewhere too. It is a huge step forward but it doesn’t address the issues. “

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