Lamont pledges cap on childcare in Scotland

Childcare costs should be no more than 10 per cent of median incomes, say Labour.

Childcare costs should be no more than 10 per cent of median incomes, say Labour

As the dust settles on Scotland’s independence referendum, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has sought to return political debate back to the bread and better challenges facing families north of the border.

Delivering a speech yesterday entitled ‘Freedom from poverty and from poverty of ambition’ she spoke of a “consensus” having emerged during the referendum campaign “that our NHS should be protected and that families would benefit from transformational childcare”.

During the later stages of the campaign, the future of the NHS became a hot potato, with the SNP attracting a furious response as it argued that the health service could only be saved if Scotland voted for independence.

Mindful of the heat and very little light shone on the issue during the campaign itself, Lamont has sought to cool the political temperature on the health service, arguing that “the real threat” to the health service “comes from rising costs and demographic change”.

“For too long, party politics has got in the way of taking long-term decisions over our NHS” she said. “Time after time, vested interests have been put above patients. We know Scottish patients have suffered as a consequence of the staff shortages, missed targets and lack of capacity,” she said.

To that extent, she announced that she has written to the all the party leaders at Holyrood, calling on them to work together towards a situation that takes the issue of the health service “out of the hands of politicians and place it in the care of the experts, who can work with the public to fix our NHS”.

Turning to childcare, she announced that Scottish Labour were now advocating a new cap on the cost of childcare, pointing to the agreement that all parties reached during the campaign on the need to tackle the struggles parents have to afford such care.

Drawing on experience in Finland, Lamont called for a new goal that childcare costs should be no more than 10 per cent of median incomes in Scotland. She also called for free childcare places for every mother who wants to go to college.

At present families in Scotland are entitled to three free hours of childcare each day, and research by the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre has shown that the current cost of childcare for a parent with a full-time job is an average of £163 per week.

With average Scottish incomes a £26,700 per year, 10 per cent would cap the cost of childcare at £222.50 per month, leaving a significant shortfall for the public pursue to pick up, a shortfall that Scottish Labour suggests would amount to £35 million.

Lamont said of the plan:

“I want to help those families struggling with the costs of childcare, and the mothers at home because childcare prices them out of the job market. Most of all, I want to give those children the best possible start in life.”

Questioned on how a Labour government in Holyrood could afford such a policy, Lamont argued that whilst the plans could be delivered with the Scottish Parliament’s existing powers, she called for a “conversation” about how it could be supported using the new tax varying powers under the Scotland Act and the promises made on finances by the three main UK parties as part of their now famous vow to Scotland.

With rumours swirling around that Jim Murphy is preparing to replace Lamont to take the helm of the party north of the border, she used her speech in Edinburgh yesterday to categorically quash such speculation.

“When I stood here first as a newly elected Scottish Labour leader my job was to revive my party. I did that in every local and parliamentary election. With some success.

“We had to win the referendum. I heard a rumour we did. Emphatically.

“Now I will finish the task by being elected first minister of Scotland.”

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