Earlier today I published an article on LabourList.
You can read my full article about working parents by clicking here.
Ask any working parent about the challenges they face in managing work and family life and childcare is often the first thing they mention. The availability and crippling cost of childcare is a huge barrier to working families, and over the last five years the situation’s gotten worse.
On David Cameron’s watch, registered childcare places have fallen by more than 40,000, and the cost of a nursery place for children over two has risen by more than a third. That’s left working families spending £1,533 more on childcare than they did in 2010, at the same time as many will have seen their wages fall.
Working parents need a government that’s on their side. Yet over the past few days it’s become abundantly clear that under David Cameron they won’t get it.
The Tories’ pledge to double free childcare for three to four year olds was left in tatters yesterday as childcare providers warned it was unworkable, because they already face a 20% shortfall in funding for existing provision. Given that the Tories’ plan was completely unfunded to begin with, it’s hard to see how they can fill the funding gaps in their plans now.
Added to this, working parents still have no clarity as to whether their child benefit and child tax credits will be protected under this government. For months Tory ministers have promised to cut £12 billion but have failed to provide any detail about where money will come from. And when pressed on the issue they have repeatedly failed to rule out further cuts to child benefit or tax credits.
Yet last week the IFS said Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits are in the firing line, and Iain Duncan Smith has asked ministers to draw up plans to limit Child Benefit for two to three children, and reduce the amount paid to the first child from £20.70 – £13.70.
This all adds up to a government that doesn’t understand or support working families. On the one hand, it pledges to help them with childcare costs, without having found the funding to deliver on its promise. On the other, it is planning to take away support working families depend on by cutting child benefit and tax credits.
Supporting families with childcare and the early years has always been a priority for Labour. It was a Labour government that introduced free childcare for three and four year olds in the first place. It was a Labour government that gave us hundreds of Sure Start centres, fantastic community assets providing childcare for parents across the country.
And it was a Labour manifesto which this year included a pledge to increase childcare for three to four-year olds from 15 to 25 hours a week – fully funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses – together with guaranteed access to wraparound care from 8am to 6pm and plans to double the number of Sure Start places.
Helping parents to work is not only good for families, but good for the economy. It’s time for the government to provide urgent assurances that the funding is in place to pay for their childcare plans. And they must rule out cuts to child benefit and child tax credits which provide vital support for millions of working families.