Despite the second highest spend on childcare in OECD countries, families across the United Kingdom cannot afford good quality childcare. One nation Labour must address this. The case for universal childcare should not only be based on economic arguments, but also encompass arguments covering the whole spectrum of influences illustrating a more holistic approach.
In order for this policy to be seen as credible for all voters, One nation Labour must illustrate how universal and affordable childcare can benefit all sectors of society, from single parent families to two income households. IPPR has illustrated the economic benefits of a universal childcare system. Working families would have increased disposal income, which in the current climate could help drive the economy forward. Furthermore, the current system of 15 hours free spread over a week simply does not make returning to work viable for parents, unless there are members of extended families or friends available to lend a hand.
Whilst the economic argument is strong, there must be a broader argument to make this a viable and winning policy. Labour’s traditional values of equality can be addressed through universal and affordable childcare. Educational attainment is key to social equality, mobility and quality of life. Various educational bodies such as the National Literacy Trust value early years education as a key to narrow gaps faced by children that are caused by their families socio-economic status. Whilst I do not advocate rigorous academic structure for toddlers; language skills, social skills, interest in reading and aspirations to be something when they grow up should be central to our policies in relation to children. These opportunities should not be the domain of the privileged few who can afford childcare.
In addition, families and in particular mothers who, in the vast majority of cases are the primary care givers, need support. Mothers need a break and often support in how to help their children. However, there is often guilt attached to the idea that mothers asking for help. There is almost a belief now that the best way to raise child is for the mother to stay at home. This is simply cannot be the only option. Families are different and pressures on parents are ever increasing. There are cases of educated, professional women who whilst enjoy being mothers often feel the need to go back to work for a sense of self-worth. Surely, if we as a society are encouraging women to be educated and have careers, we should be supporting them if they want to go back to work. My daughter has certainly thrived in seeing me work as a teacher and often talks of being a teacher herself.
Incorporating universal and affordable childcare within the domain of government boundaries could also protect those valued individuals who provide the childcare. Childminders and staff at nurseries are often low paid and there is often a high turnover of staff at nurseries. Whilst I do not support the theory that staff at nurseries should have a high level qualification in order to look after children, childcare needs to be a viable and sustainable career option. I believe having a universal policy on childcare, can ensure this.
Whatever model of childcare we use, one nation Labour needs to change the narrative of who is responsible for the raising children. ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’, a proverb and a simple notion, meaning we cannot simply place the entire responsibility on parents. Children are mirrors of the society they come from and we all have a vested interest in ensuring the nurturing of our most valuable assets is shared. If we want to instil values of responsibility and respect in our children then surely we all should be willing to support parents.
As the great Labour Government of 1945, One Nation Labour needs to be courageous and implement a policy of universal and affordable childcare. We are the party of social change and equality. If we do not pursue affordable child care, no-one else will. Whatever model is used, we must support parents in raising children and thus investing in society’s future.