Stephen Twigg, Yvette Cooper and Liam Byrne write for Left Foot Forward on Labour’s plans for better childcare.
By shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg MP (Labour and Co-operative, Liverpool West Derby), shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper MP (Labour, Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), and shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne MP (Labour, Birmingham Hodge Hill)
As part of the Labour Party’s policy review, Ed Miliband has tasked us with leading a commission to look at the childcare challenge facing parents today.
Childcare is crucial for parents, for the economy, for women’s equality and to ensure all children get the best start in life.
We made advances in supporting parents and children, especially in their early years.
In government, Labour established Sure Start, provided financial support to help parents afford childcare and introduced the free nursery entitlement for three and four year olds, supporting parents from the beginning of their parenthood and giving mums in particular greater flexibility to seek employment.
But we know that, in these tough times, families are struggling with their childcare arrangements and we must take this agenda forward as we build towards Labour’s manifesto in 2015.
We know that the cost of childcare is one of the biggest worries for families with young children. It eats up a fifth of the average family budget, more in some parts of the country. In fact, hardworking families are being hit by a triple whammy in childcare.
Prices are going up and the availability of childcare places has gone down. On top of this, the government has increased the strain on family budgets by cutting things like tax credits – costing the average family by £511 per year.
Already we know that over 30,000 women have been put off going back to work, because of childcare costs, as they struggle to make work pay. Families who want to get on are now struggling to get by and deserve a better deal.
And what is the government response to this crisis in childcare? Deregulation and a laissez-faire approach to the quality of care for our children. When this was tried in Holland it caused costs to go up and quality to reduce.
• Children’s commissioner slams welfare bill 11 Jan 2012
• The case for the role of co-operatives in childcare 28 Sep 2011
• Childcare double whammy: help is cut as costs soar 8 Sep 2011
We want to look at examples where both costs are lower and quality is maintained or improved. Parents don’t want to choose between cost and quality.
Today in Swindon we are launching a series of listening events, asking parents what they would want a future Labour government to do to improve childcare for the better. This will be the first in a series of events around the country in which Labour politicians will talk with and more importantly listen to parents and understand their childcare needs.
We want to know from parents what their priorities are for childcare and how the current provision impacts on their ability to educate their children and to seek and secure worthwhile employment.
And as we learn from these discussions, we too will look to international models. Countries like Denmark have shown just how universal high quality childcare can get more people into work, raise family living standards, boost equality, and give working families back a service they value.
That’s why Labour is so focused on transforming childcare for our youngsters and their parents who feel under the cosh juggling hours at work, bigger bills at the end of the month and cuts to tax credits.
David Cameron told us that his would be the most family friendly government in Europe. Instead what we are seeing is an unprecedented attack on working families that is turning back the clock.
Parents in our constituencies are telling us they worry their children are growing up in a society that will leave the next generation worse off than the previous. This is unacceptable. Our economy is not working for working people. Labour’s Childcare commission is setting out to address that challenge.