International lawyer Miriam González Durántez has called for greater recognition of the invaluable work of the home

Home Renaissance Foundation and its UK-based partner, Mothers at Home Matter, launched the results of the British Report of the Global Home Index at the House of Commons.

The guest speaker, Miriam González Durántez applauded the fact that a very substantial amount of our GDP is generated through the support network of the home but said “historically the home has been run by women who didn’t have any power in society. Their contribution has gone therefore unrecognised.”

Following the idea of British journalist Colin Brazier, of Sky News UK, the survey is a comparative study measuring perceptions on the work of the home in 20 countries.

According to the study, answered by over 9, 000 people worldwide, around 60% of participants strongly agreed that homemaking can teach skills applicable to other areas of life. However, at present few families appear to be regularly distributing tasks amongst themselves (15-25% of those surveyed).

One of the lessons to be learnt from the home study includes healthy eating. With almost half of participants claiming to routinely cook homemade meals, many clearly recognise that the home is a critical source of nutrition and paves the way for future dietary awareness. Miriam González relates strongly to this since she feels absolutely satisfied being a homemaker and having built her own home. Her greatest recognition comes from their boys and she joked:  “I am a Spanish Mum so I find myself doing the same things my mother did and with the same ruthlessness. My boys will recognise that, as far as they are concerned, no-one cooks as well as their Mum!”

One of the things that was discussed when the dialogue was opened was the meaning of success. “I am not more or less feminist for following my husband and leaving my job in Brussels because the decision was born from my freedom of choice”, Miriam González Durantez said.

According to Miriam González Durantez, the concept of success is changing. She would not be a successful woman if one side of her life failed. Both family and professional lives should come together to consider that it is a success. She recognises that her success comes not only from her effort and hard work but the environment where she grew up.

The research points out that the home must be considered in the design of future public and corporate policies. And it should serve as a reference point when considering the societal benefit of a new policy.

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, who hosted the event, confirmed that she and David Burrowes have lined up a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss future policy that puts the family first.

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Event at the House of Commons

The launch of the Global Home Index results will take place on November 6th at the House of Commons in London. Due to the General Election, the event had to be rescheduled and we would like to thank MS. Fiona Bruce, member of Parliament for her hosting and giving us this opportunity. It will be an honour to present the findings of this international research in order to show the reality of the work of the home in the United Kingdom and around of the world.

So far, United States, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, El Salvador, Portugal, Italy or Spain are only some of the countries where HRF and our two main partners have presented this first report.

We are very pleased to announce that the lawyer Mrs. Miriam González Durántez, Mr. Nick Clegg´s wife, will be our honorary speaker. She is co-chair of the firm’s International Trade and Government Regulation practice at Dechert.

More than 9,000 people from 94 countries across 5 continents participated in this Global Home Index study which you can find here. This first report is a comparative study of 20 countries on the recognition of the work of the home. Please click here to participate, your view makes a valid contribution to society.

Agenda

  • 1.30-2.45pm.: Light lunch refreshments

Jubilee Room at House of Commons

  • 2.45-4.14pm.: For Presentation & Discussion

Committee Room 16 at House of Commons

Less is more, or not!

The more children you have, the less quality of life? Think again!
I have a friend who is something else. I don’t usually brag about friendships but I can’t help giving this dear friend a special mention.  Regardless of the particular country where I happen to be working or visiting, the circle of friends in which I find myself – be it a family reunion or a discussion about children and family life – my friend immediately springs to mind. Some people call her and her husband crazy but I haven’t noticed a constant stream of what might be classed ‘sensible’ people in my travels.

Each time she says she has a big announcement to make, you know in your heart it must be the news she has been sharing with us for a number of years – that they are expecting another baby. They now have 9 children – and as you come to get to know each child, your whole perception of what it means to be part of a large family changes.

The first comment people usually make when I talk about the family is “Of course they will surely be from some radical religious group?” And I am amused because my answer is, “I don’t know or care, but what I do know is that they belong to a group of people who possess a quality we should all imitate -generosity.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that their like-minded group of friends have equally large families but, economics aside,  they are all generous and give of themselves completely. I might not pass that test of sheer selflessness.

When you walk through their front door it immediately feels like a home. The first thing that hits you is the buzz and vibrancy of children offering to help. The disorder expected is non existent as everyone has a designated role to play, something they’ve been taught from a young age. Their five-year-old was setting the table, taking dishes from the cupboard at his height level and carefully arranging the knives and forks on the table. I could have offered to do it for him but I thought better of it.

There’s no need to speak about equality in this house because clearly, their home belongs to everyone. Their sons and daughters divide the chores equally and both parents manage to work outside the home, neither having to give up their chosen profession.

People often ask me if they have lots of nannies and are rich to afford so many children. The answer is negative to both those questions. But sometimes I don’t even bother to answer as it’s clear that, even after explaining everything, they still don’t understand that a team of 11 is much stronger than a team of just 3 – for prejudices of this nature are hard-wired into the human brain.

 

The rise of the plastic home

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By Joanna Roughton.

I recently recorded a video diary for a TV news item.

It involved a week in which my family and I would try and cut back on the use of plastic in our home.

The TV producers wanted to underline to viewers just how much single-use plastic we throw away.

Because, when things like plastic bottles, containers and wrapping end up in the bin, they often find their way into our seas.

Once in the ocean, the plastic enters the food chain. On current trends, by 2050, the amount of plastic in the sea will weigh more than all the fish.

So a problem then.

How did we get on?

Well, the first thing to say is that when you try to abstain from using something, you recognise the scale of the problem.

It’s a little like giving up wine for Lent. You might not succeed, but at least you acknowledge how much you’ve been getting through.

Perniciously, the amount of single-use plastic we use grows year on year.

When I was a child, the milkman delivered our milk in bottles. Now it comes in plastic. Years ago, when you bought a soft drink you paid a deposit on the glass bottle it came in. Now it comes in throwaway plastic. Plastic straws have supplanted paper straws. Plastic cups have taken the place of paper cups. On and on it goes.

But it’s only when you make a conscious effort to notice that you realise how much plastic has rendered itself seemingly indispensable to our everyday activities.

There is an alternative, of course. It is possible to ignore the supermarket and use a market. You can buy fruit and vegetables from a stall. They are wrapped in paper bags, or you can tip them straight into a ‘bag-for-life’.

And, because most plastic-wrapped food is processed, by cooking more food from scratch, the plastic burden falls.

Much of the plastic in our kitchens is there for our convenience. It speeds things us up. Reducing our dependence on it is time consuming.

When women like my mother ran a home, they had time to return bottles for a deposit or to chat amiably to stall-holders in the town centre market. Now we all work, the scope for such time-consuming, environment-protecting activities has withered.

The ‘right to disconnect’

By Joanna Roughton.

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A friend of mine has a big job with the NHS.

It involves working in a major teaching hospital and administering a budget running to hundreds of millions of pounds.

She works long days which can often involve back-to-back meetings.

At any time during her working day she may be called upon to make life and death decisions.

At the very least she often has to contend with delicate personnel management issues.

There is little ‘down’ time.

Last week I took my friend for supper. She looked shattered, as well she might. Her home life is loving and supportive. But with young children and a working spouse, home is no holiday camp.

But what really surprised me was the extent to which work intrudes into her home life, especially via emails. As she pointed out, the NHS is a 24-hour operation. However, even she was astonished by the number of emails sent to her overnight recently. On this ‘day’ her inbox received 18 emails between midnight and 6am.

I thought of her when reading reports of a study published in the past few days which showed that office workers are more stressed at home than at work.

The research, published in the latest edition of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, analysed 550 London staff from the French bank BNP Paribas.

The subjects wore wrist monitors to measure heart rates. They suffered ‘spikes’ in their stress levels when they allowed their time at home to be interrupted by work.

Co-author of the study, David Plans, said the culture of always working was “killing people”.

He said: “Dealing with work while at home is pernicious to health and is directly linkable to cardiovascular disease. That is now measurable and before it was not.”

The French, as you may know, have introduced a law to stop this happening. The ‘right to disconnect’ came into effect on New Year’s Day.

It obliges companies with more than 50 workers to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.

The French economy is far from perfect. The country’s 35-hour working week has been widely pilloried and unemployment is forcing a growing number of Frenchmen and women to find jobs in the UK, where the hours are longer, but vacancies exist.

But when it comes to the ‘right to disconnect’ the French have surely hit upon an important intervention.

Technology has a pernicious ability to chip away at our personal space, to penetrate the peace of our homes, without ever really seeking our permission.

In a sense it was easier in the days when someone taking work home apologised to the children before salting themselves away in the study for an hour.

Now the smarthphone means that mummy or daddy may appear to be ‘present’, but as they glance at their device, their mind is actually elsewhere.

Best Friends Forever?

By Joanna Roughton.

So it’s been said. Officially. People have just as much of a duty to look after their elderly parents as they do to care for their own children.

The words came from a Government minister in the House of Commons. David Mowat, a health minister, was addressing the select committee on communities and local government. But he was really speaking to the the great elephant in the room of state expenditure. Social care.

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Hitherto, the conventional wisdom in policy-making circles has been to demand greater resources for social care. With a rapidly ageing population, this has led to fears that the taxpayer could face an unlimited bill for looking after our old folk in care homes.

Occasionally, a new element is introduced into this discussion, often by MPs or commentators whose roots lie outside of the UK. People born in the Indian sub-continent or Africa struggle to comprehend the unwillingness of their Western neighbours to share a home with their elderly parents. After a while they stop noticing and cease drawing unfavourable parallels.

Which makes Mr Mowat’s intervention all the more remarkable. Here’s an excerpt of what he told the select committee. “One of the things that has struck me is no one ever questions that we look after our children – that is obvious. No one says that is a caring responsibility, it is what we do,” he said.

“I think some of that logic and some of the way we think about that in terms the volume of numbers that we are seeing coming down the track will have to impinge on the way that we think about caring for our parents. Because it is a responsibility in terms of our life cycle which is similar.”

In a sense what Mr Mowat is arguing for, a seemingly revolutionary shift in social attitudes, may not be quite as far fetched as it might appear.

We are already witnessing a quiet evolution in household composition. Parents and children no longer obey the old rules. Those rules involved a child leaving home in their late teens or early 20s and forging their way in the world. The symbol of that new found independence was a roof over their heads. Now, of course, things are different. Young people struggle to get a foot on the housing ladder and even those who leave home to attend university often ‘boomerang’ back to the family nest.

So the clear delineation between childhood and adulthood has blurred. Many parents, particularly parents of small families, now freight their parenthood with expectations that previous generations would have been shocked by. It is now normal for a mother to expect a daughter to become her BFF – her Best Friend Forever.

We do not know where this process will end. Long term co-habitation with ageing parents may become the norm for a cohort of younger people who can never afford their own property.

The question we do not yet have an answer for is this?

Will a generation of children who never fly the parental home, feel an enhanced sense of filial obligation?

It is reasonable to assume that having saved on the expense of a mortgage, and the inconvenience of running a home themselves, they will owe mum and dad a debt?

It is also reasonable to assume that having lived with their parents for longer, they will have deeper bonds of association?

A Best Friend Forever must, surely, feel more inclined to care for an increasingly frail parent than a child who left home at 18. This is why Mr Mowat may be onto something.

Leaving flat-mates behind

By Joanna Roughton.

This blog has a bias.

Because I’m a parent with a large family, certain households are beyond my immediate ken. This is an editorial failing. Not least because my tribe – the one consisting of a home-making mum and kids – is in decline (in this country at least).

I have memories of other styles of living. But the decade in which – for instance – I rented a flat with other sharers, is now long gone.

How have things changed?

Many more people now live in multiple-occupancy homes than once they did. Increasingly, they do so into advanced middle age. A flat-share is no longer a part of growing up, a staging post on the way to settling down. It has become a destination unto itself.

There are people in their twenties now, sharing a home with other renters with whom they have no family ties, who may cleave to this lifestyle for their lifetime. Half a century of itinerancy.

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I can think of nothing worse than living in a constantly changing domestic environment, year after year, where a household is in perpetual flux.

Residents move in and move out. Some fall in love and do the settling down thing, others get a job that takes them away, while more still decide they don’t much like their current housemates and opt for something which – at first blush – seems more to their liking.

But for that last group, how to know who will be most simpatico?

A potential solution comes in the form of a new online service launched this week which uses an algorithm to pair prospective co-tenants. It uses a 20-question survey to establish how compatible people are.

One of the questions asks “Should there be a rota for allocating household chores?”.

Another wants to know whether “It is sometimes OK to break the rules.” The multiple choice survey gives answers which range from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’.

Flatmates are then matched according to how well they’re likely to get on with each other.

Simple? Well, yes, up to a point Lord Copper. The problem with these internet surveys is that they’re easily gamed. If you find a flat in the right place and price range, you are unlikely to incriminate yourself by answering a question about how tidy you are honestly.

When you think about, throughout human history, the pairing of people in homes has tended to be done by others. For millennia (and in many parts of the world still), household composition was done via an outside agency. Not an algorithm, but parents. Often a father; through the mechanism of an arranged marriage.

I am glad to have been born into an age and culture where such practises seem outdated. That said, I also think that sharing a house as a student helped me develop a better understanding of how a home should and shouldn’t be run. How simple acts of thoughtlessness or thoughtfulness can make or mar a shared space.

But, in my view, sharing should be rite of passage, taking us en route to a place of permanency, of ties that bind, of commitments to a spouse and children. Old fashioned I know, but there it is.

The monetising myth of the domestic goddess

By Joanna Roughton.

At least one British newspaper last week had the story of ‘America’s most organised couple’. The pair are Ed and Alejandro Costello and their cleverly-packaged life-story is an interesting illustration of some big trends affecting the media, the family and home.

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The life story is important. If you go onto the internet and search for Alejandro Costello you will see articles and videos set inside her home with tips on how to systemise and regiment a household.

None of it is rocket science.

There is advice on de-cluttering which you’ve probably heard before or put down to common sense. There are videos – Alejandro has her own Youtube channel – in which the host shows how to ‘upcycle’ everyday domestic objects. Boxes and labels, jars and labels, clothes folded a particular way in – you guessed it – labelled drawers.

The mainstream media seemed to have lapped this up and bought into it big time.

Why wouldn’t they? Here’s a telegenic couple – she’s cradling an oh-so-pretty-pooch – standing in a house that puts yours to shame.

And, wait for it, here are pictures – supplied by Alejandro – of her as a little girl. It turns out she’s always wanted things to be ‘just so’ with a ‘place for everything, and everything in its place’.

This childhood backstory is important. It de-fangs the obvious doubts we might harbour about Alejandro.

Namely, that she is a slightly odd, obsessive/compulsive type. Or, failing that, she is no more interested in tidiness than you or I, but she has realised that there’s a gap in the soaring Youtube video market for an attractive young woman who can style herself as the go-to personality for guidance on home-making.

Well, I have no idea what really motivates Alejandro to invite millions of Youtube searchers into her home.

If it’s money then, so what. We’ve all got to make a living, right?

And, if she is one of those people who has to keep re-arranging the tins of beans until they all sit at the same angle like Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘As Good As It Gets’, then hey, she’s managed to overcome and, indeed monetise, an affliction.

No, the dissonance comes from a different direction. It is the abject willingness of media outlets to post headlines like ‘most organised home in America’ over pictures of a thirty-something couple and a dog.

I mean, how hard can it be to keep a childless home tidy?

I remember what it was like in those pre-lapsarian days of domestic innocence. Before the tidal wave of child-rearing crashed on the shore of an orderly home and re-arranged it somewhere well up the beach like so much matchwood.

I remember, maybe you do too, how childless contemporaries would visit and stifle comparisons of how my home looked pre- and post- kids.

In short, it is vaultingly simple to keep a home organised, to retain the purity of cream carpets, to produce bathrooms floors fit to eat from, if there are no domestic goblins going about their mischief.

Can pensioners live in student halls?

By Joanna Roughton.

Imagine a retirement home, which also doubles-up as student accommodation. It’s one of the ideas given an outing by a think-tank which, like the Home Renaissance Foundation, cheers on the virtues of inter-generational living.

The think-tank is called United for All Ages and its report warns – a little histrionically – that something must be done to stop a type of ‘apartheid’ opening up between old and young.

In a report published this week, the organisation squarely fingers the housing shortage as the biggest reason for this growing gulf between ages. It argues that the elderly are increasingly ‘zoned’; living in a type of property or area where mixing with people of other generations becomes difficult.

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To prove this point the think-tank has commissioned a survey which purports to demonstrate that the average Briton has 56 per cent fewer interactions with people they would mix with if people of all ages were allowed to mix randomly, without self-segregating. That figure does not include family contact, but even so it does sound worryingly high.

On one level we ought to acknowledge that such a shocking statistic is, at least partly, a product of the natural impulse to share time with people whom we understand. As someone now in her 50s, I increasingly find the cultural touchstones of younger generations abstruse. It helps that I’m a mother – and in time, God willing, a grandmother – because our children help us understand the language, humour, hopes and fears of those coming along after us.

But a growing number of men and women are childless, and do not have that umbilical connection with the values of a younger cohort of humanity. And there are many people who simply find it less hard work to get on with contemporaries, rather than folk who require almost every conversational exchange to come with an explanatory footnote.

But the United for All Ages report identifies the evolution of something less organic. It says the young, in increasing numbers, live in cheaper, urban areas. The older generation – typically their parents and/or grandparents – are living in the suburbs or countryside.

The reason for this is well documented. The effect is what should worry us. The extent to which young and old fail to mix. When that happens society is the poorer. The old do not impart to the young the widsom of their experience, the young do not energise jaded oldsters with the vigour of their youth and idealism.

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But what to do. The Home Renaissance Foundation has published research looking at how architecture can create homes where old and young, parents and children, co-habit whilst retaining shared and independent living spaces. Houses built around a communal courtyard are but one – excellent – example. Others include town houses where the ground floor is for older residents, while the upper storeys are for the next generation. Walls can be taken down easily, as family composition evolves.

United for All Ages takes those ideas on a couple of steps. They are not necessarily likely to happen, but they represent the kind of imaginative proposals which will get people musing on the seriousness of the problem.

So we end up with a plan to create university halls of residence which can be shared by students and pensioners (who may just occasionally be both). Some people will raise their hands in horror at the thought of highly-strung and noisy undergraduates sharing a living space with grannies. The former would be getting up as the latter would be going to bed etc.

But this is to miss the point. We are, increasingly, living in a world where the old and young cannot imagine sharing a space. And that has to be wrong.

Other proposals from this welcome think-tank include using care homes to provide nursery facilities. Studies show the beneficial effects of elderly residents coming into regular contact with children, and care homes – suitably modified – could offer the parking and dining facilities which both eldercare and childcare businesses require.

And another idea floats the notion of home-share schemes in which younger people live with older folk – offering limited care services, in return for reduced rent. It is facile to pick at the hem of these ideas. Obviously, they are fraught with problems about their practical applications. But the alternative, where our generations continue to move apart, also carries risk.

Taking lessons from the Queen

By Joanna Roughton.

Imagine you are a 90-year-old woman whose best friend has just died.

How distressing would that be?

Now, add to that loss, the death in the same month of another close friend – the last of your surviving bridesmaids – and one begins to wonder about the psychological impact on any nonagenarian.

What if this 90-something turns out to be the Queen, the world’s most famous elderly lady, who has just seen old age take away two of her oldest confidantes in the run-up to Christmas.

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The sovereign has reached that age where many of her contemporaries are no longer around.

Wonderfully, her husband and consort through so many decades, the Duke of Edinburgh, remains at her side – five years her senior.  And, obviously, Her Majesty enjoys the best medical intervention money can buy.

Perhaps more importantly she has a large and supportive family. Every Christmas those family members gather in Sandringham, the monarch’s Norfolk country estate, where her late father, George VI, passed away in 1952.

And, every Christmas, the Queen makes the short walk to the local church, cheered on by locals and snapped by photographers.

But not this Christmas. This year the Queen was reported, along with Prince Philip, to be suffering from a ‘heavy cold’.

We are told the Queen is sustained by a strong personal Christian faith. She is also Supreme Governor of the Anglican Communion, which has in excess of 70 million adherents worldwide. So missing the Christmas Day service, we can assume, will have been a disappointment.

I mention all this by way of posing a question. In a country, like Britain, where the idea of an ideal family is in retreat, what kind of a role model can the royal family – with the queen at is head – provide?

There will be many for whom this question is nonsensical. How can a family which sits at the apex of Britain’s still potent class structure, offer a template to be followed by every type of family; high or mighty, humble or downtrodden, blended or dysfunctional?

Well, the royal family may be a model family, but they are far from being problem-free. Three of the Queen’s four children are divorcees.  But that is not to say the monarchy cannot offer the Queen’s subjects an exemplar or two in how we lead our lives.

The Queen, in particular, is an object lesson in self-less duty. And, witnessing my daughters sitting down – of their own volition – to watch HM’s speech on Christmas Day, I was reminded of another reason to thank the sovereign for being who she is.

Quite simply, I can’t imagine any other public figure – of her age – who has the power to seize the interest of teenage girls in the way our head of state did. We live in a culture where the elderly are increasingly invisible, where inter-generational respect is on the wane in some quarters. Our monarch offers an antidote to some of that corrosive lack of mutual understanding.

I also took note of the Queen’s absence at Sandringham for another reason. It was there, almost 20 years ago – on Christmas Day – that my husband proposed marriage to me. He was there as a TV royal correspondent, I there as his guest and a curious observer. He and I, like the Queen and her consort, are, mercifully, still going strong. Merry Christmas everyone.