Britain needs a childcare revolution

7th January, 2013 1:21 pm

Ask any working parent `what the toughest part of the job is, and they’ll tell you the same thing – sorting out childcare. It’s a constant logistical and financial challenge. I should know: I’m a working Mum.

70% of working parents do not work 9-5, Monday to Friday. In London, and other big cities, with journey-to-work times of over 30 minutes, doing a full day’s work is made more difficult by nursery hours. A recent OECD report also found that the UK has some of the most expensive childcare in the world.

In my constituency in Hackney South & Shoreditch, and across Britain, the cost and quality of childcare is becoming the biggest worry for squeezed middle- and lower-income earners. It must become a top priority for politicians and policy-makers if we are to fix the problem.

Liz Truss, the Coalition children’s minister, is set to announce her policy. I wish her luck. There are plenty in her party who still consider childcare a peripheral issue, and some who think women should not be out at work at all. Unless Truss addresses head-on the issues of cost, hours, quality and availability, she will have failed working parents and their children.

I am happy to defend the record of the last Labour government, in introducing nursery places for four and five year olds and the voucher system. But the lesson for the next Labour government is that piece-meal reform is not enough. Britain needs a childcare revolution.

Look at Denmark, where the Day-care Act means that local councils provide 8am-5pm childcare for all, with parents making a contribution to the cost alongside government subsidy. In Denmark, childcare is free to the lowest income families. The subsidy is then tapered upwards depending on family income. Seventy-six per cent of Danish women are working. Across the Scandinavian countries, childcare is a priority, and their economies are weathering the storm as a result. I want some of that Scandinavian magic brought to Shoreditch.

The austere public spending that Labour will inherit should cause a keen sense of prioritisation amongst Labour ministers. What can be more important than childcare? First, to secure a recovery, we need everyone onboard the boat to be rowing as hard as they can. Limited, inflexible nursery hours mean that most parents cannot do a full-time job properly. Britain needs the talents and energy of parents as much as anyone. Second, we need women to be economically active, and fully equal in the workplace and jobs market. Third, the evidence shows that children benefit from nursery, equipping them with the skills to prosper at school and beyond. Fourth, the IPPR has shown that a decent, universal system of childcare pays for itself in the long-run. More parents working, paying taxes, and not claiming tax credits and benefits more than pays for the state’s investment in caring for children.

Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas are drawing up the Labour manifesto, alongside the shadow ministerial teams. They must listen to voices of working parents, who want to do the right thing but feel they are being punished. They must read the evidence that shows childcare makes economic sense in tough times. They must consider the views of educationalists, who argue pre-school care makes children confident mini citizens. They must be bold, and look at co-operative, not-for-profit and municipal models of childcare which engage local families.

The need has never been greater and the benefits never more obvious. Universal, affordable childcare must be at the heart of Labour’s offer to the British people. That would prove beyond doubt that we understand the strains of modern life, and are in tune with Britain’s families.

Meg Hillier is the Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch. She was a minister at the Home Office in the last Labour government.

  • Amber_Star

    The plan seems to be for a tax allowance. So, if you are not earning much above the personal allowance threshold, it will be no help at all.

    • MrSauce

      The tax allowance system (paying for childcare from pre-taxed income) looks like the best way forward.
      If the parent is economically less valuable than a childminder, and therefore cannot afford to pay for childcare out of wages, then the best option would be for the parent to fill the childcare role.

    • Redshift1

      Agreed. This needs to work for all working families.

  • http://twitter.com/citizen_colin Colin McCulloch

    Well said, Meg. Universal affordable childcare will eliminate the second biggest barrier to getting to work (the biggest being housing costs). Universal affordable childcare coupled with universal access to decent, affordable, social housing would give the British people an offer they cannot and will not refuse.

  • JoeDM

    Well reduce the rediculous amount of red tape that puts people off becoming childminders and increases the costs so hugely and we would have a good way making it more affordable.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    This is all well and good but Nordic public services require Nordic tax levels, how much would this increase in provision cost and how would you pay for it?

    • Redshift1

      Personally, I’d be happy to pay Nordic tax levels if we got Nordic public services – especially public services like childcare that’d save me money!

      Also, let’s think of this in some other terms. If you had Danish-style municipally-provided childcare, that’s a massive economy of scale, which really would lower childcare costs.

Latest

  • Featured News Polling Another poll gives Jeremy Corbyn huge first preference lead

    Another poll gives Jeremy Corbyn huge first preference lead

    A private poll leaked to the Daily Mirror has given Jeremy Corbyn another huge lead in the first round of voting, and sees him narrowly winning in the final round. It is the third poll showing a Corbyn victory, following a YouGov one for The Times last week and another private poll leaked to the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush the week before. However, this new poll puts Yvette Cooper, and not Andy Burnham, in second place – and shows her […]

    Read more →
  • News Kendall criticises Government record on women in the workplace as 300,000 more women than men are out of work

    Kendall criticises Government record on women in the workplace as 300,000 more women than men are out of work

    Liz Kendall has criticised the Government’s record on women in the workplace, as evidence shows 300,000 more women than men are out of work. The Trade Unions Congress and the Office for National Statistics have today released figures that show nearly 300,000 more women than men are not in work. This suggests that there is a gender gap in terms of new jobs that have been created. This research shows that 4,103,000 people ‘want work’ – this is people who […]

    Read more →
  • News Burnham announces Beveridge-style commission to review care service and potential graduate tax

    Burnham announces Beveridge-style commission to review care service and potential graduate tax

    Andy Burnham will announce that he plans to form a Beveridge-style commission to review the funding and delivery of a National Health and Care service. This commission would also look into moving away from tuition fees to a universal graduate tax. At a speech in Leeds this evening, the leadership contender will outline his vision for an integrated National Health and Care Service, where social care would be “provided on the same principle as the NHS.” The commission, which Burnham […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Senior Labour figures: stop treating members like children and trust us to decide who we want to be leader

    Senior Labour figures: stop treating members like children and trust us to decide who we want to be leader

    The Labour Party is having its most grown-up conversation in a generation; so without resorting to threats and insults, it’s time senior party members stop treating the rest of us like children and trust us to decide who we want our leader to be. Having topped a recent YouGov poll and at the time of writing, edging slightly ahead in party constituency nominations, it is fair to say left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn, is igniting the leadership contest in a way […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Scotland What happened at last night’s Scottish Labour TV hustings?

    What happened at last night’s Scottish Labour TV hustings?

    An invited audience of current and former Labour supporters heard Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh present their vision for the future as they went head to head in a BBC Scotland televised debate last night. In trying to regain any semblance of credibility and optimism about the future both Scottish leadership candidates set about trying to address the problem of the electorate not knowing what the Labour Party now stands for. Dugdale offered a future with ambition rooted in the […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit