Stay-at-home motherhood being undermined, says senior Tory MP

George Eustice MP

Stay-at-home motherhood being undermined, says senior Tory MP

Exclusive: George Eustice criticises push to get parents back to work, saying women’s ‘natural nurturing role’ should be valued

A senior Conservative MP has said stay-at-home motherhood is being undermined by the government’s push to get parents back into work, saying women’s “natural nurturing role” should be valued.

George Eustice, the former environment secretary, said he believed the chancellor Jeremy Hunt had focused too much on encouraging mothers of young children into employment and not enough on incentivising them to stay at home.

But his comments that men and women were “biologically wired” differently were described as “outrageous” by critics, who said they were unscientific and based on outdated gender stereotypes.

Eustice, 51, is one of a number of Tory backbenchers who are now pushing Hunt to cut taxes for families at the next fiscal statement, likely to come in the autumn. But his comments have been criticised by opponents as out of date and insulting to modern families.

“‘Stay-at-home mother’ is now almost used as a derogatory term,” Eustice said. “We should respect the choice that women make.”

He said that he was focused particularly on encouraging women to stay at home rather than men because mothers have a unique bond with young children.

“Many women do want to spend those first few years with their child,” he said. “It’s a short period in life where they can perform that natural nurturing role. We shouldn’t belittle it, we should value it.”

He added: “I think [motherhood and fatherhood] are different and we should be honest about that.

“Fathers of course have a very strong paternal desire to spend time with their children but you can’t get away from the way we are biologically wired and the maternal instinct is a strong one.

“It is generally the case that mothers in particular will want if they can to spend that time with their young children.”

Adrienne Burgess, chief executive at the Fatherhood Institute, said: “George Eustice’s comments are completely out of date and insulting to modern families in which fathers aspire to be central to their children’s lives.

Research has shown that ‘paternal instinct’ is no less powerful than ‘maternal’ when fathers’ caretaking is acknowledged and supported.”

Dr Anna Machin, one of the UK’s leading evolutionary anthropologists and author of The Life of Dad, called the MP’s comments “outrageous and ignorant”.

She added: “Men want to stay at home with their kids just as much as mothers and they are just as ‘good’ at it. It is society, culture and in particular a lack of support from government which prevents them.”

Eustice’s comments are also at odds with Hunt’s push to get as many people back into work as possible, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The chancellor told the Commons during last week’s budget: “For many women, a career break becomes a career end. Our female participation rate is higher than average for OECD economies, but we trail top performers like Denmark and the Netherlands.”

Eustice believes, however, Hunt is focusing too much on maximising economic growth rather than protecting traditional family structures. “The relentless pursuit of GDP is a rather flawed, somewhat artificial measure of growth,” he said.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said it was “absolute nonsense” to say that women were more natural caregivers.

“I would agree wholeheartedly that we must respect the choices women make,” she said. “The issue is that mothers are not currently enabled to make choices.”

Eustice is one of a number of Tory MPs who are now pushing the chancellor to change the tax system so that parents who stay at home and do not earn a wage can transfer more of their unused tax allowance to their working partners.

Ranil Jayawardena, another former Tory environment secretary, said during last week’s budget debate: “Instead of a one-size-fits-all system from Whitehall, families should be able to decide what works for them … indeed – a radical thought – one parent could even choose to stay at home, allowing the other to work extra hours, if that is what they want to do.”

Those MPs say they will not vote against the budget later this week, but they are hoping to put pressure on the chancellor ahead of the autumn statement.