The rising cost of living is a key threat to the livelihoods and prospects of many families. Higher prices and a stagnant economy mean that Britain’s parents are now facing a childcare crisis of this government’s making.
Prices have shot up 6% in the last year – double the rate of inflation – while affordable childcare options are plummeting. The slashing of funding for Sure Start and school nursery provision as well as cuts to help with childcare costs of up to £1500 for some families make for a toxic combination.
The government has no real answers for dealing with this problem. Their plans for increasing ratios at the expense of children are in tatters. Help with costs through a new tax free childcare plan will help the richest the most. Low income families could actually end up paying to work and the scheme won’t even be introduced until 2015 – little comfort for the millions of parents struggling now.
Solving Cameron and Clegg’s childcare crisis is a battle Labour should confront head on. We have a proud history of putting childcare and family friendly working on the political agenda. This election will be a living standards election and a one nation childcare policy that leaves no one behind should be a key plank in our aim to make work pay and get the economy working for everyone.
Getting childcare right is vital to growth in the economy and to release the potential of women stuck at home unable to work because of the childcare barriers they face. New research for Asda shows that 7 in 10 stay at home mums want to work but can’t due to high childcare costs. We’re wasting the economic potential of these women and their children’s futures.
We need to see childcare as an economic and infrastructure issue. I’m calling on the government to commit to a real cost benefit analysis of the case for expanding childcare provision. Government produces business cases for high speed rail, airport expansion or the Olympics, so why not childcare?
Childcare policy must be parent centred. Support needs to be in place when a woman is making the choice about returning to work after maternity. Creating genuine flexible and shared parental leave will ensure that dads can play a full role in their children’s lives from the earliest opportunity.
Whilst it’s true that increasing childcare provision won’t come cheap, figures from the IPPR show that the introduction of a free universal offer would reap rewards for the Treasury with the move paying dividends for the Chancellor. The IPPR argues that universal childcare – 25 hours of free childcare for children from one to four – would pay a return to the Exchequer of £20,050 over four years in terms of tax revenue minus the cost of childcare for every woman who returns to work full time after a year of maternity leave.
The benefits to the economy, exchequer and for children and families themselves should outweigh the cost. Gingerbread estimate that the government could make £436 million of savings a year by getting just five per cent more single parents into work and figures produced by the House of Commons library show a net gain of £105.91 per week to the Treasury for every woman working full time and receiving average earnings supported back into work.
Childcare investment would not only get our economy moving. Longer terms benefits would include improved development for young children, beginning to level the playing field between poorer children and their peers when they start school. This would increase attainment and social mobility and reduce inequality.
A one nation childcare policy matters for Labour because it has the power to expand opportunity to those women denied it. It matters because it provides children with a sure start for a better future and it matters because it is the right thing to do to get our broken economy back on track.