A Childcare Revolution?

img-childcare125 June 2015 saw the Commission for Childcare Reform delivered a letter of recommendations to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell. It contained seventeen points that would address the current crisis that disadvantages families across the country. This follows the First Minister’s heartfelt pledge for a “childcare revolution” at the SNP conference last November. The report hopes to be a template for change by addressing how Scotland can attain its long-term vision for world-class childcare. But can this ambitious vision be realised with current thinking?

Reality in Scotland

Childcare isn’t working in Scotland. It doesn’t work for families, it doesn’t work for children and it doesn’t work for the economy. The need to radically overhaul it has been identified by the commission and collectively across the country’s political parties, yet this recognized need has yet to find its way to the people on the ground. Current statistics paint a grim indictment of a system rooted in the socio-political and economic landscapes of decades previous. This year, a nursery place for under-twos in the North East rose by 14%, costing parents well over £6,000 a year. Only 15% of local authorities can provide enough childcare for full-time working parents – a drop of 8% from the 2014. In some rural areas, provision simply doesn’t exist, despite the promise of 600 hours of free care for each child. Many local authorities can only offer half-day places, rendering them unusable for families who need meaningful solutions in order to go to or find work.

The options available to families don’t reflect the outward looking progressive nation we hope to be – and until we get this right, our loftier aspiration of having parity at our heart is a fading light on the horizon.

The options available to families don’t reflect the outward looking progressive nation we hope to be – and until we get this right, our loftier aspiration of having parity at our heart is a fading light on the horizon.

Global Contemporaries

When it comes to childcare, we have much to learn from our global contemporaries. Elsewhere, viable models exist, and their benefit permeates far beyond the individual or family. In Denmark, families pay only up to 25% of the cost of childcare, with low-earning families paying nothing. This means that almost all mothers in Denmark work, ranking them fifth in the world for female for female employment rates. The idea of not returning to work after having a baby is what raises eyebrows – a stark contrast to the often castigated working mother stereotype in Britain.

Similarly, the Swedish model is subsidised and means-tested, providing capped, income-contingent fees, allowing both parents to work and the average family to take home 70% of their salaries. For this level of financial comfort, UK families would require a household income of around £80k per year. With the average Scottish family bringing in around £23,000, the resultant deficit in opportunity is astronomic.

Scotland’s challenges

The report delivered to the First Minister highlights how in many cases, fragmentary provision not only fails to meet family needs, it hinders them through stress, financial impact and an inability to fully access work and educational opportunity. In Scotland, reliance on informal childcare is high, making social-mobility a lottery of circumstance, and fortifying an insidious societal precedent for bootstrapping. This combined with Scotland’s share of the inflexible sector and atypical working patterns, means that the likelihood of having a family life and financial stability are far from the grasp of many Scottish families.

Childcare and how we view women

But poor childcare is not only fails families; it directly fails women by impeding their life chances. Women deserve the right to a career and personal success that isn’t dictated by their reproductive value. Girls shouldn’t have to factor their future familial plans into the paths they chose for themselves. Having children should not mean the death or achievement or ambition, as it does for so many women. Women should not have to see their options wither thanks to the limitations we place on them through their bodies.

The impact of half the population having to choose between not having children, or significantly modifying or dropping out work, cannot be underestimated. Women face an insidious double-bind between not earning at all, or significantly affecting future earnings due to unavoidable career breaks.

The value of family

Though, it’s not just women who stand to gain from these reforms. In essence, they stand for a very simple premise – for all parents to receive, so they both have the right to earn. This idea is simple, but so often missing from policy approach. With this central idea, childcare is recognised as an interplay between a myriad of factors unique to each family, making for more joined up thinking in political decision making.

Flexible work cultures with this notion front and centre recognise the true needs of families. This bolsters state childcare policies that place value in gender equality – giving worth to every family member, regardless of sex. Generous leave entitlements allow fathers a greater presence in the early years of their children’s lives, whilst also helping women back into the workforce.

Childcare that works isn’t siloed by financial constraints, and considers the importance of finding a real work-life balance. This allows for more meaningful parental leave, improving child bonding and home labour division, whilst contributing to a societal shift in gender roles and responsibility.

Towards a better nation

If Scotland wants to become a true egalitarian, it must get childcare right. Though being on the agenda isn’t enough. Reforming it will mean looking far beyond the financial to how deeply the issue is hemmed into the societal fabric. It will require a seismic shift in how we view the population – for each to be considered of equal value, and to be afforded the same opportunities, regardless of income or gender. Only then will we become a true global exemplar for equality. Let’s hope Nicola Sturgeon keeps her promise.

Comments (13)

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  1. Rachel says:

    In Scandinavia people are happy to pay much higher taxes. Until we do the same and pay child carers properly (it is a highly skilled, emotionally draining job) we won’t have quality childcare here. Multiple child development studies from the 1950s until today (yes, consistently over 65 years) have shown long days in childcare are bad for children’s development and any childcare is very bad for babies under 2. For goodness sake when are we going to put the child first? I have a Diploma in Psychanalytic Observational Studies of Children and Families from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust.

    1. trenoon the boiler says:

      My wife is a consultant psychiatrist (i.e. she’s a doctor with a medical degree) with 16 years experience working with children and young people with developmental difficulties of various kinds.

      I’ve just shown her your comment and she sats you are a crank, are talking absolute rubbish and there is no proper verified evidence for your wild assertions.

      1. JBS says:

        Oh, so your hospital consultant wife is a sneerer and a jeerer like you, Corporatist Hell alias trenoon the boiler? How lovely.

  2. breege Smyth says:

    Putting the needs of the child at the centre of Childcare policy is paramount – their needs are not are not confined to Mon-Fri /9 to 5.
    If we look at childcare as an investment instead of a cost we might arrive at a flexible programme of care that meets the needs of the child, the parent, the employer and the community.

  3. Annie says:

    The whole picture needs to be looked at – not just ensuring that childcare is available.
    Women/parents should be entitled to much longer leave from work.
    The quality of childcare needs to improve drastically and come more into line with that on offer in Scandinavian countries.
    Childcare workers need to be highly trained and have their skills and commitment valued in terms of career and financial recognition.
    The government should look at some way of paying grandparents who undertake this important role and are not recognised for their contribution to the economy.

  4. dean clark says:

    Just a thought, but perhaps not having children, or maybe waiting until you can afford to pay someone to look after them for you is fairer on society. I do not see where this attitude of “I am a woman, it is my right to have children” meshes with everyone else having to pay for them. If you want to be treated equally, then it is time to act responsibly. Males to not get a years paid leave for what amounts to a lifestyle choice so why should you?

    1. Puzzled says:

      I’m not sure why you think having children is entirely down to women? Do you think no man is ever involved or interested in the decision to have a child?

      I don’t think having children is a “lifestyle choice” either. It really isn’t. If you think a child is like some sort of accessory then you are sadly mistaken.

      “Waiting until you can afford to pay someone to look after them” also strikes me as an odd concept.
      I would prefer to live in a society which regards the decision to have children as rather more nuanced than most economic decisions, but it seems that is only OK if you are very rich. What do you do if you are made redundant after having a child, by the way?

      You say that males don’t get a years (sic) paid leave so why should women? Would you want a year’s paid leave to care for the child you fathered? I ask as a matter of curiosity – it does seem to me that many men regard childcare as entirely the job of women, who, you seem to think, are the only people who want children and who therefore should take all responsibility for caring for them. Is that right? Have you considered what would happen if nobody had any more children?

      So many questions. Serious answers appreciated.

      1. dean clark says:

        I don’t think the decision is entirely down to females and if it was men that had the equipment then the email would be aimed at them. Sharing maternity leave is still pretty much unheard of in the UK is another reason why I’ve aimed the comment at women, although I think it would be a good idea.

        I assume you have children and if so I can understand why you would want to live in a society that encourages you to have them and supports them if you cannot afford to and since I choose not to, I would prefer to live in a society which rewards you for making the decision not to have children. My considered opinion on what would happen if nobody had any more children is that we would destroy the planet we live on that bit slower.

        We have a lot of people on the planet, and we can’t even feed them. I think it is short sighted and slightly arrogant to just keep adding to the toll just because we are “relatively” better off, so any controls on people having children, whether they be financial, lottery based or state mandated is in my opinion a good thing.

        Also, ofc having children is a lifestyle choice (with perhaps some biological imperative ticking away)- just as me choosing not to is a lifestyle choice. The world would be a scary place if we all just acted on our biological instincts though.

    2. Frank says:

      Yes, it’s so bloody obvious isn’t it. If only human beings were rational. The trouble is, they are not. And many people, let’s call them the poor or disadvantaged, also enjoy the pleasures of having children and the sense of purpose it provides.

      1. dean clark says:

        Sooo, you recommend more investment into education to combat the irrationality and redistributing the money saved by the now educated poor/disadvantaged not having children be spent pulling them out of poverty? Sounds like a winner.

        1. Frank says:

          Judging by the state of your sentencing structure, I think any investment in education can only be a good thing.

          1. dean clark says:

            U’v hurt my feelings

  5. Derick fae Yell says:

    Until Scotland controls and benefits from taxation then worthy reports will go nowhere. And the only way to do that is to be independent. With our own currency.

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