The Future of Childcare Under a Labour Government
Thank you to Anand and the team at the Family and Childcare Trust for inviting me to speak at your conference today.
This is my first keynote speech as Shadow Children’s Minister and I am delighted to be here. The Family and Childcare Trust might be a new organisation but both the Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Institute have a proud collective forty year history of research and campaigning on family life in Britain. You have helped to push childcare to the fore and I congratulate you on your work.
Since the birth of Daycare Trust nearly thirty years ago, the challenges and issues facing families and parents have changed beyond recognition.
For many parents balancing work and family life has become increasingly difficult. The way in which families are structured has fundamentally changed over the last twenty years and public policy has failed to keep up with these changes.
We now have more women than ever in work; more women who want to work, and more who need to work; more and more dads want to play an active role; families need to work more hours and more anti-social hours to make ends meet; parents not only struggle to get by but also struggle for the time and space to enjoy their kids.
Gone are the days of dad working while mum stays at home bringing up the kids. While this is the choice of some, it is not the reality for the majority.
My generation of women expected that we could “have it all” but we are all too often still having to choose between career and motherhood; and being plagued by guilt whichever path we take. There remains an impenetrable glass ceiling for working mums.
I want my daughter’s generation to be able to have the best of both worlds and to have real choice.
So my main message to you today, is that in order for this to be realised we need an ambitious agenda for childcare and family policy.
While there’s been a quiet revolution in the way people live their lives, we now need a childcare revolution to match it.
Compared with 30 years ago, we have made significant strides in becoming a more family-friendly society and Labour has a particularly proud record: a year’s maternity leave; the right to request flexible working; massive expansion of early years education; more childcare; tax credits and vouchers to help meet costs; free early education for three and four year olds.
But over that same period we’ve also seen a revolution in the lives of families and in particular a revolution in the role of women at work.
Despite progress, let’s be honest, the political class and policy framework has failed to keep up with this.
As a result, we see pressures on families getting greater. One income invariably just isn’t enough anymore and we’ve seen recently that the largest group living in poverty are single-earner couples with kids. Yet conversely, because of very high childcare costs the second earner needs to earn above the national average in order for work to pay. The government’s universal credit will exacerbate this problem for many.
We also know that women suffer a pay and status penalty for having children for the rest of their careers. We know from research by the Fawcett Society and the Resolution Foundation more recently that motherhood has a profound impact on a woman’s earnings with women earning around a fifth less than their male colleagues.
Part time jobs and job sharing are still seen as second class. Women who switch from full to part-time employment when they have children stand to lose a significant amount of income if, in doing so, they are forced to also take a lower status job. The women’s workforce remains concentrated in lower-paid occupations.
For dads these days too, taking that active role in their children’s lives hasn’t got much easier. Labour brought in paid paternity leave and the right to flexible working, and I support the Government’s introduction of Shared Parental leave. But without a cultural shift in the workplace men will continue to have requests turned down, and leave won’t be taken.
As many mums and dads will tell you, the most important job they do is to have and bring up happy and confident children. But they also do important and worthwhile jobs which keep the economy moving and contribute to the country.
That so many families and in particular women in the 21st century still have little or no choice about being able to work or work in the jobs or the hours they want because they have children is wrong and should galvanise us to act.
Labour gets this challenge. I get this mission.
Our extension of the free childcare offer from 15 to 25 hours is a real offer that will help parents make informed choices about going back to work.
Second earners, for the first time will be able to go back to work part time without having to worry about childcare costs. This extra childcare provision for working mums and dads is worth £1500 per year per child and is on top of government plans for tax free childcare.
To tackle the logistical nightmare faced by parents we will lay down in law a primary childcare guarantee so parents can access before and after school care for their children at their local primary school or nearby.
But I want parents to know these costed proposals are not the end, but an important next step.
What I, together with colleagues, will be developing over the coming months is a new long-term strategy for childcare that truly meets the needs of families who want high quality, affordable, flexible childcare.
I will work with parents and the sector to develop an ambitious agenda for childcare and family policy that meets the needs of families today and in the future. I want to work with you to build a movement for radical childcare reform that leads to a cultural shift in how we see childcare, how we value parents in the workplace and how we set a generation of women free.
As the IPPR have reported today boosting childcare will benefit the economy and increase maternal employment. In the same way we make the economic case for infrastructure projects, we will show that childcare isn’t an optional extra but fundamental to our future prosperity.
Working parents champion
Part of this revolution is a society that values the contribution of parents in the workplace. They often get a raw deal and suffer from prejudice.
Too often working parents are given a bad name at work: seen as not focused on the job or having to leave early or take time off. I want to bust this myth. I want to champion working parents, particularly working mums, and I want business and other organisations to join me.
Far from being scatty and clock-watching, working mums have done a day’s work before they leave the house - we don’t waste a minute of our day. We are highly productive at work because we have to be. We are also loyal and creative employees.
We should be celebrating not berating the role parents play in the workforce and in society.
This is a job for all of us. It’s shocking that there is only one mum in David Cameron's cabinet, and the depiction of working mums on the TV hasn’t moved on much from Wendy Craig's character Ria in Butterflies. That’s why we need more working mums in positions of power and culturally to reflect the positive contribution we make.
Tory-led Government won't meet the childcare challenge
But let’s be clear – we have not seen the kind of policies from this government that champion parents and children.
The government will have taken seven billion pounds of support away from children by 2015.
Whether it’s chatting to parents at the school gate, the library or the local supermarket, it’s very clear to me that childcare costs are the biggest issue they face. Affordable, accessible, high quality childcare is still a myth for many. The Family and Childcare Trust’s own survey shows where we are on costs and sufficiency.
Under this government childcare costs have risen 30% since the election with nursery bills rising five times faster than wages.
Early years places have fallen by 35,000 since 2009 and we know that there are still big gaps in local childcare for families, particularly disabled children and families working atypical hours. This is damaging local economies and trapping parents who want to work at home. Stifling potential and holding parents back.
And what have we seen from the government?
Not more great childcare.
Certainly not more affordable childcare.
Just more of the same.
Prevarication, infighting and no clear vision for childcare.
Ratio plans that would have done nothing for cost. Nothing for quality and nothing for child safety.
Thankfully now dead in the water.
Tax Free Childcare
On tax free childcare – whilst we welcome any investment in childcare, it will do little for costs, as the IPPR have shown recently, and it is too little too late.
No help for families in this Parliament.
And families with children over 5 are excluded.
Labour will watch as this policy develops, listening to the voices of parents, businesses and the sector.
The childcare challenge will not be met by this government.
Labour is the party of the family; the Party of parents and the party of women.
I will lead the charge for a childcare revolution.
One that puts the economic case at its heart and that leads us to a shift in thinking about the value we put on childcare.
I will also champion parents and the contribution they make.
I look forward to working with you to put this issue centre stage of the political debate.