Despite a series of welcome political initiatives and considerable public investment, our childcare system is still not fit for purpose, with demand outstripping the supply of affordable childcare. All too often, parental choice about whether or how many hours to work is constrained or even dictated by the local availability of affordable childcare. And the childcare crunch is particularly acute for single parents, those working atypical hours, parents of disabled children, and those living in rural areas.
We need to work towards a system that delivers good quality, affordable childcare to all working parents when they need it, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing the well-being of our children. However, the challenge must be met not by children spending excessive time in costly childcare, but by more flexible working for parents and a better, more flexible supply of good quality, affordable childcare.
That amounts to a very significant challenge, which we believe will only be met when the issue of childcare is treated as one of economic and social infrastructure on a par with education and transport.
The government elected in 2015 should:
- Appoint a cabinet-level, cross-departmental minister for childcare. In recognition of the fact that good childcare infrastructure boosts economic activity as well as child development, this minister should be based in both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. He or she should lead on developing a new national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years.
- Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of good quality, affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children. At present, only one in four local authorities report sufficiency of childcare for disabled children in their area.[i]
Royal College of Midwives says:
“The RCM commends this manifesto as setting out a range of sensible measures that the next Government should implement in order to help working parents to achieve a healthy work-life balance and to ensure that parents, grandparents and other carers get proper childcare support.”
[i] Source: Childcare Costs Survey 2014, Family & Childcare Trust, March 2014. Available at: http://www.familyandchildcaretrust.org/childcare-costs-surveys