By Paul Goodman
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I'm usually sceptical about reports into matters commissioned by lobby groups with an interest, but today's Daily Mail report about a Daycare Trust and Save the Children report is worth reading:
"One in four working parents has been plunged into debt due to the crippling cost of childcare, a report warned yesterday…The poll of more than 4,000 working parents also found nearly two-thirds ‘cannot afford not to work, but struggle to pay for childcare’…The average bill for sending a child under the age of two to a nursery for 25 hours a week is £96, while a live-out nanny in central London costs about £32,000 a year."
The story goes on to say that the cost of childcare is "on a par" with the biggest other regular bill that they face – their mortgage or their rent.
On the demand side, Government could help parents to meet costs through higher family allowances. There's not the remotest prospect of that happening anytime soon.
On the supply side, the Government could try to ensure a more level playing field in childcare, responding to Gordon Brown's drive to nationalise it by cutting back red tape on private and voluntary providers.
When I was Shadow Minister for Childcare, working in a vast and straggling team that encompassed David Willetts, Tim Loughton, Maria Miller and others, this was what we wanted to do.
Childcare may not excite all of this site's readers, but it's a vital matter for families. Which raises a question: what's happening to family policy under this Government?
To which the answer is: it's on the desk of Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister. Conservative MPs tend to speak well of Teather, who's minded with studious attention by Michael Gove.
But there's no sign of a major Government drive on childcare, and Iain Duncan Smith's social justice agenda can't be delivered without family policy being at the heart of it.
We can't afford to yield social policy to the Liberal Democrats, and the Government can't afford to let it stall. I don't support a new social justice ministry, but there's a strong case for IDS taking over the family brief.
If nothing's done, the likely political beneficiaries will be Miliband, who is casting around for a big policy idea – and would doubtless allow a Big State policy to be drawn up which would only make matters worse.