Ben Black from my Family Care has today produced a roundup of what is wrong with Britain’s Childcare Sector. Ben is quite right when he states that Childcare was the central theme of the new Labour Government in 1997. Indeed it was. As the founder and MD of the UK’s leading childcare consultancy at the time ( I sold it to BUPA in 1998 and Ben is the current owner), I can vouch that many of the arguments of today have a strong feeling of déjà vu. We have all been here before.
Ben is also right is his assertion that, frankly, Labour messed it up.
The announcement today of funding to be made available for the extension of childcare places for two year olds is welcome and needed. However, one new aspect of the childcare argument which wasn’t as obvious in 1997 and has become a matter of priority following the summer riots is that, for Governments, childcare is a game of two halves.
There is now an acceptance of early intervention and acknowledgment that society has broken to such an extent that the state needs to intervene. Providing childcare for children from such deprived backgrounds is more about helping those children to develop personal and social skills. Not so long ago I visited a charity which helped some of the worst cases. I learnt that some of the children who arrived at the centre had never held a knife or fork, had no concept of sharing, were insular with little in the way of linguistic ability and to compensate were at the age of three fighting their way to be heard.
Childcare for these children is not about helping mothers to get back to work, it is about doing whatever can be done to ensure these children make it to the school gate and are equipped with enough skills to be able to learn and participate and not become isolated and excluded at a very early age.
The second group are those families where mothers work or want to work and need help.
To resolve Britain’s childcare issues we need the money to move to the carers and for employers to embrace more innovative methods of flexible working. But, as Ben states, this cannot be done until the taxation system is simplified (thanks for that Gordon) and the benefits system is streamlined.
I remember arguing for tax breaks for parents back in 1992 and the hints and promises held out by New Labour to parents desperate for a break in what was a rigid employment environment devoid of nursery places. Despite Labour’s best efforts to completely distort the childcare market, it has survived and the fact that the business I begun, which is now thriving and going from strength to strength, bears testament to that. But its no thanks to politicians. The early achievements and progress are wholly the work of the private sector battling against the machine.
Ben sums up in his final paragraph;
“Of course, to increase and extend the scope of tax breaks for working parents means Politicians becoming devotees of the belief that people who combine care and family effectively are the most engaged and productive members of the workforce. And relaxing the rules around care so that all forms of care might benefit goes against the grain of every civil servant who has ever taken a breath of air. Making those changes would require an act of faith and a drop of courage."
Those are wise words. However, today’s Autumn Statement and the looming Eurozone crisis make tax breaks for carers even less likely.