On March 2, parents were heading to polling stations across the country to cast their votes deciding who would form our next government...
It seemed an opportune time to ask mums, dads, grandparents and carers the burning question: ‘If you could ask our newly-elected representatives to do just one thing to help families with young children in Northern Ireland – what would that be?’
Unsurprisingly, health, education and childcare issues ranked among the most popular priorities on the wish list for families. Charlene Marie Tang, Kim Chivers and Sarah Byrne all believe, ‘Healthcare is our main priority’ however Kim also added as a second choice; ‘an education system to ensure our children are given best chance for the future.’ Linking health to education there was also demand from Mary McAuley and Cathy Lundy to bring back free milk to all classrooms, while Petal Rose would like to see free fruit available to pupils and Lisa Craig thinks that what would really help all families are free, healthy school dinners.
Judith Gibson would ask for more financial help with childcare because, ‘Most mothers would love to go back to work, but the crippling cost of having your children cared for while you do puts most off.’ Cara Uwaechue would also love to see a commitment from our new government for more assistance with childcare costs. She wrote, ‘I feel that working women are penalised for wanting a career and are not supported enough with the outrageous cost of good quality childcare.’
Gillian Cunningham wants our politicians, ‘To put real people who work hard and just want the very best for their family at the heart of every single decision they make and to ensure that every decision – big or small – is genuinely for our benefit and will make our life better not worse.’ And Nicola Parker would like to hear a pledge for a better future for her children in all regards. She commented, ‘I would like the past to stay in the past and for us to start concentrating on issues we face both now and in the future; child poverty, education, healthcare, jobs, housing etc. I fear for the life my children might have if things don’t begin to change and money doesn’t stop being wasted.’
Madge Pattison agreed saying, ‘There is so much needing done for so many, both young and old, that it would be hard to write just one thing. All I would say is that when discussing or making decisions that our politicians would ask themselves this question: “If I was in need how would this affect me and how would I feel about this decision?”. All too often it goes over their heads. It's not just a job, they are our representatives, voted in by us to do the BEST they can for us.’
Another popular vote was for better maternity pay, particularly for mothers of premature babies. Lesley Connolly argues, ‘Six weeks at 90 per cent of pay is terrible. If they extended that for another few weeks it would really help. I know that when I had my child, I was on SMP before my actual due date as I delivered six weeks early. With the stress of a premature baby, the last thing I needed was a major pay cut. I would also like to see extended leave in those circumstances. I know one set of parents who had to go back to work whilst their babies were still in the neo-natal unit, or had just got out of the unit, as they couldn't afford the running back and forth to the hospital on SMP.’
Reducing child poverty should be our main focus says Christina Mary. She believes, ‘The cost of living is rising, food, rent etc. and whether families are on benefits, or working, it's so difficult as the money they are receiving often doesn't cover their basic needs – it’s a real struggle. The children are the ones who suffer when families can't afford basics like new school shoes or a winter coat.’
After all the debate though, one mum managed to sum up the number one wish for NI parents. Elizabeth Cherry succinctly said, ‘Plain and simple, I wish for a better future for my children.’
We agree that it’s difficult to give just one area of need priority, and that’s the challenge facing any government. How do you meet everyone in society’s demands with limited resources? However, if we truly believe in creating a better future for all our children in Northern Ireland, then the most basic needs of providing a good standard of healthcare, education, support for families – and the eradication of child poverty – should always be paramount, no matter who sits up on the hill.
Don’t forget! Every issue one comment will be selected to win a £10 gift card for M&S – so like us on Facebook and join in the debate!