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The politics of choice in a world made of households Susan Himmelweit and Jerome de Henau Open University, UK

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Presentation on theme: "The politics of choice in a world made of households Susan Himmelweit and Jerome de Henau Open University, UK"— Presentation transcript:

1 The politics of choice in a world made of households Susan Himmelweit and Jerome de Henau Open University, UK IAFFE annual conference, 22-24 July 2010, Buenos Aires

2 Increasingly called on as a political value by policy makers –throughout Europe –examples mainly from UK Choice is supposed to: –Be what everyone wants But isn’t achieved by public services –Promote active citizen/consumers Co-production –Rescue enabling policies from the dead hand of a bureaucratic state “nanny state” modern term for “paternalism”! politics of “nudge” –Deliver the benefits of the market: Value for money Innovation/competition to improve quality Choice

3 Rhetoric of choice is used (UK) To justify privatisation of public services –Initially through competitive tendering by state agencies Delivers efficiency benefits of the market Political choice exercised in local elections (highly constrained in practice) –Increasingly through individual budgets, personalisation Recipient chooses, most efficient Cuts out wasteful spending To justify flexible labour market –Said to be easier to “hire and fire” than in other EU countries –UK individual opt out from European labour regulations

4 “Choice” is sometimes used (UK) With respect to welfare spending –Paid parental leave –Tax credits/childcare subsidies –But often in one direction rather than the other: e.g. different policies promoted as giving parents/mothers the choice: –to continue in employment –or to stay at home when their children are small –And not generally where its exercise could impose higher costs on the state

5 Economic arguments “Free to choose” – unregulated markets promote individual freedom and dynamic efficiency –Value for money –Innovation and high quality –Requires competitive markets Welfare theorems – under strict conditions –a competitive market equilibrium is Pareto-optimal –All Pareto-optima can be reached through the market from some initial allocation –Strict conditions include not only competitive markets but: No externalities i.e. that all impacts of a decision are on the decision maker alone

6 Who gets to choose? In practice, policy makers have had to construct a decision-making subject for each policy –Household/ family unit –Particular individuals with the family –Not always consistent Next few slides give some UK examples

7 Personal care services Decisions should made by the service recipients –This is the logic of personalisation for elder/disabled care –In practice it is often relatives (and sometimes professionals) who decide, who may have different motives even greater information problems e.g. about quality –Budget is often not carer blind Inherent externalities

8 Working time regulations UK opt out allows employers and employees to make individuals agreement to work long hours than regulations allow –weak safeguards against coercion e.g. making such an agreement not allowed to be a condition of employment –seen as widely flaunted in practice Opt-out justified by giving individual employees the right to choose their hours of employment Feminists have criticised notion of choice where there are shared caring responsibilities –Man’s choice is woman’s constraint –Inherent externalities Working time highly skewed by gender in UK –men with children work very long hours –majority of women with children work part-time Government argued this was evidence of families having “chosen” a particular division of labour

9 Maternity/paternity leave Paid maternity leave now 9 months –Funded by state –at very low fixed rate of pay (except for fist six weeks earnings related) Fathers get –Two weeks paid at same very low fixed rate –Additional paternity leave of any time after six months that the mother doesn’t take Mother chooses first; father can then choose Legislated externalities Justified as giving mothers the right to choose to stay in employment after the birth of a child, and if mothers want, fathers the right to participate in the care of that child

10 Tax credits 1997 Labour government introduced tax credits for working families (WFTC) –Initially planned to be paid in wage packet (therefore more likely to go to the man) –Replaced smaller payments previously made to the mother –After feminist objections, couples were given the right to choose who received WFTC –Feminists pointed out that it was in those couples that couldn’t reach agreement that it was most important for women to have an income of their own

11 Current system “new” tax credits Working tax credit (WTC) paid to one wage earner Includes childcare subsidies, if both parents are in employment, paid to “main carer” Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments also paid to main carer Main carer is new construct –couple has to decide who that is, but meant to reflect actual practice –implies a particular view of child rearing No “main wage earner” but means testing make incentives different for first and second earners (couples can choose which of two workers is paid WTC) Aim: reduce workless households –By providing incentive for one parent to take employment –Ambivalent about other parent – sometimes justified as enabling mother to stay at home, at other time enabling women to work

12 No consistency in how subject of choice is constructed Personalisation: Care recipients or their families???) Working time: employees (but not their partners) or is it families? Parental leave: mothers first (to return to work) and fathers only if mothers want Tax Credits: couples, and within them first earners and “the main carer”, with policy targeted on household behaviour

13 Fluid specification of subject According to policy makers’ objectives –Sometimes individuals: often ignoring that effects on others in their households create –At other times collectivities: households, families, parents, assuming unity Either way externalities within households are either ignored or assumed away This leads to interests of subject being constructed as short-term rather than following from an individual life course perspective Suspicion that “choice” has become a flexible rhetoric to to justify policies introduced for other objectives

14 Feminists (on choice) Also value choice, particularly in contexts where women have traditionally lacked it eg: –“a woman’s right to choose” –financial autonomy for women. But recognise that the process of choice is not one of simple maximisation under constraints, which –relies on unjustifiable separation of preferences from constraints –fails to take account of changing social norms Recognition of influence of gendered social norms lead feminists to question: –whether what individuals “choose” is necessarily in their own best interest –even more so within the family where individuals vary in how far they distinguish their own interests from those of their family Power to influence collective decisions Will use the results of our research to investigate this

15 Same regressions as previous paper Answers to questions on satisfaction with household income may throw light on: –what individuals would choose –how well households choices reflect their interests Interested in correlates of satisfaction with household income of men and women who have same household income If satisfaction of each correlated to different extent with various factors may be because those factors affect access to that income Control for many other possible interpretation by using fixed effects and controlling for overall satisfaction Do not know direction of causation

16 In general Everything else equal, within couples individuals’ satisfaction with their household income is more correlated with the man’s than the woman's –Full-time employment (+ve) –Unemployment (-ve) –Being out of labour market (-ve) –Disability (-ve) –Hours of housework (-ve) Rather traditional gendered views, that may reflect: –Recognition of external constraints? –Gender norms? If this reflects what really benefits household income then greater overall household resources go with traditional gender roles

17 But Everything else equal, individuals’ satisfaction with their household income is more correlated with their own than their partner's: –Full-time employment (+ve) –Unemployment (-ve) –Being out of labour market (-ve) –Disability (-ve) –Hours of housework (-ve) Same factors as before If this reflects differential access to household income then factors characteristic of traditionally male role in household go with great access to household resources

18 Illustration that division of labour that is most efficient (or seen as most efficient?) in increasing total household resources may advantage one partner in access to the fruits of those household resources (Sen, 1990) For men there is no conflict: their full-time employment (for example) rather than their partner’s is correlated with: –Greater (perceived) overall household resources –Greater share for themselves For women there is conflict; their full-time employment rather than their partner’s is correlated with: –Lesser (perceived) overall household resources –Greater share for themselves So immediate household resources may be (perceived as) increased by reinforcing gender inequalities within and beyond the household

19 Implications It matters who is given “choice”. For example, giving couples ‘choice’: –is not the same as giving individuals choice –may result in choices that are in the (perceived) short-term interests of the couple and favour the man’s access to household resources –may be against women’s long-term interests and autonomy In practice, decisions in accord with perceived immediate household interests can have deleterious long-term consequences for women Choices made by households are part of the way in which gender inequalities are reproduced within and beyond households Need to be very careful about to whom choice is given

20 20 But this is not enough To challenge gender inequalities and break cycle need to loosen the economic constraints and/or gender norms giving rise to such choices

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