EASY AS 1, 2, 3 (4, 5, 6…)

On 29 January, Children’s Minister Liz Truss announced that she would be increasing the ratio of children to childminders. For example, under the proposal, a childminder could be responsible for 6 two-year olds.

Challenging what they say is a policy that risks the health of children and undermines childminders, the Fabian Women’s Network gathered Shadow Chancellor Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg MP and Shadow Minister for Children and Families Sharon Hodgeson MP to discuss childcare policy.

Polly Toynbee of the Guardian again issued her challenge to Ms Truss to “show us, oh super-minister, exactly how you manage – all on your own – to care for two babies alongside four toddlers”. Stephen Twigg MP argued that the early years are integral to attacking societal inequality. Rt Hon Ed Balls MP promised that childcare would be at the centre of the Labour Manifesto in 2015. And everyone tried to grapple with quite a few dismal statistics.

Whilst we are all aware of the ability to manipulate figures, and the failure of statistics to accurately portray certain elements – for example, the self-actualisation that some may gain from employment – there were a few striking statistics that make this debate critical to the electorate.

  • Britain has the second most expensive childcare rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Ms Truss released a report stating that 27% of the average family’s income is spent on childcare – this compares to an average spend of 11.8% in the OECD
  • Childcare fees in the UK are two to four times those in Finland and four to eight times those in Sweden
  • British mothers are some of the least likely to work in the OECD
  • Before children, women earn 7% less than their male counterparts; after children, women earn 21% less

All parties agree that what we are getting for the 1.1% of GDP that we spend on childcare is not yielding what it should. Families are struggling, and women in particular are having a difficult time justifying working outside the home. Many contend that this is problematic not only for the women themselves, but also for the economy, which would benefit from their skills. The Institute for Public Policy Research has concluded that for every woman who returns to work full time after a year of maternity leave, the Government would receive £20,050 over four years under a universal childcare system. This takes into account the cost of childcare.

We will be looking for results from new Coalition policies and for Labour to flesh out their Manifesto in the run up to 2015.

Ultimately, these numbers add up to a multiplicity of concerns – and that’s all before you have to help your child with their maths homework.

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