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WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JAN. 15, 2014
version 6, draft 6

Punished For Having A Job?

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The various government initiatives and ongoing speeches about getting people back into work can be encouraging, sometimes. Knowing that our government is well aware of the unemployment situation and is focusing on getting people jobs is important after all. However, it appears that they are now punishing their own employees for having jobs, and such is the case for Stewart and Natasha Sutherland.

Stewart and Natasha Sutherland are set to appear at Telford Magistrates’ Court because they had disrupted their three children’s education by taking them on a seven-day holiday during term time. Both are working parents, but because of their jobs - Stewart working for the Ministry of Defence which has banned all overtime and recruitment - they have not been able to get time off together during the school holidays for five years. The decision to take a short family break to the Greek island of Rhodes was their first family holiday for five years and would see them severely punished.

The legislation in question, which was brought in on 1 September 2013, states that parents cannot take their children out of school during term time and if they do, a fine and prison time can be imposed. Nevertheless, all cases should be treated individually; the Sutherlands holiday was booked the previous October when no such legislation was in place. The parents are facing fines of £720 and possible jail time.

Why is the fine so hefty? Because they have three children, are married, and they refused to pay the £60 for each child within the first twenty one days stipulated. Now, this sounds completely unfair. The government prides itself on supporting the institution of marriage and getting people back to work. But, this is a case, the government is actively punishing working parents for wanting to have a bit of quality time together. After all, one of the big stresses on marriages and families is the lack of quality time that we spend with one another.

As for disrupting their children’s education, it is really a laughable concept. This is the conversation between Mr Sutherland and the attendance officer ’I told the attendance officer they were trying to deprive children of having a holiday and I was told I’d deprived them of six days education and should feel guilty.’ Anyone reading this article I am sure has missed more than six days of school while growing up and I doubt it did you any harm? This is not a case of constant truancy or bad parenting, these are high achieving kids with parents who value education; but sensibly, they also see the need for family quality time.

While we are on the subject of ‘disrupting children’s education’, I feel the need to mention the disruption teacher trade Union strikes have. Teacher Union strikes such as those in October by the NUT and NASUWT, inconvenienced not only the school children, but also their working parents who had to find means of child care whilst avoiding taking time off work. Of course, because it was an official strike it was deemed perfectly acceptable for the affected schools to be closed during that time. In fact, more strikes for February are planned this year!

It would appear that the government permits teachers – employees of the public sector – to take time off work for long strikes, but a short family holiday is out the question.

Is this a case of the government getting too big and interfering too much in our lives? Is it the case of a government ‘talking the talk’ but not ‘walking the walk’ as they are clearly not empathizing with family values or encouraging people to work in this case? Perhaps because they are too scared to take a thatcherite approach to the Unions they are taking it out on parents instead – an easier target.

For my part I think it is a case of the government not being able to walk the walk, perhaps mixed with a bit of fear of taking a thatcherite approach to the trade unions. Your comments below please!  

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