Britain needs a childcare revolution

January 7, 2013 1:21 pm

Author:

Tags:

Share this Article

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

  • Comment Our party should welcome a debate with Farage – and we can win it

    Our party should welcome a debate with Farage – and we can win it

    By James Dray and Lewis Iwu Should UKIP be part of the televised election debates? Forget for a minute the question of whether or not Farage should be entitled to be there; instead, let’s look at the real question; can we beat him? A man who significant numbers of people see the rather obvious faults of but still really rather like? A man who decimated Nick Clegg in the European debates? We think that we can, and more importantly, we […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour’s football proposals are the only way to fix a broken game

    Labour’s football proposals are the only way to fix a broken game

    Labour will change football in England forever, and for the better. Too many football clubs have become distant from the supporters that are the reason for their existence. More than that, football fans genuinely love their clubs. The damage caused by careless owners causes real pain to them and their communities. That is why Labour is proposing that supporters’ trust have representation on club boards and the opportunity to buy some shares if club ownership changes hands. Despite the commercial […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Today’s TUC demonstration is about bringing hope back into politics

    Today’s TUC demonstration is about bringing hope back into politics

    Today the TUC demonstration will be highlighting why Britain needs a pay rise. The extent to which people’s living standards have dropped is greater than ever before. I was shocked when a Unite bus driver, Paul told me how every month his wife’s parents have to give them £200 to be able to pay their rent and that it is common practise for bus drivers to be on benefits. Paul and his members are not shirkers or skivers and yet […]

    Read more →
  • News Miliband makes “one week cancer test” guarantee, as Labour’s NHS focus continues

    Miliband makes “one week cancer test” guarantee, as Labour’s NHS focus continues

    Ed Miliband will continue his renewed focus on the NHS this weekend, by committing the party to guaranteeing NHS patients in England will wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020. The pledge, made in an interview with the Times, is the first of a number of announcements based around the party’s “Time to care” budget unveiled in Miliband’s recent conference speech and forms a core part of Labour’s ten year plan for the NHS. This commitment […]

    Read more →
  • News Latest Mayoral poll shows Hodge joining Jowell as front-runner

    Latest Mayoral poll shows Hodge joining Jowell as front-runner

    Margaret Hodge has joined Tessa Jowell as one of the front-runners in the Labour Mayoral race, according to the latest Evening Standard poll. Today’s poll, carried out by YouGov, shows that amongst Labour supporters Hodge is in clear second place, four points behind Jowell, and four ahead of the next contenders Doreen Lawrence and Sadiq Khan. But aside from Hodge and Jowell, it’s a somewhat close contest – Diane Abbott is only two points behind Lawrence and Khan and she is […]

    Read more →
7ads6x98y