Labour's childcare plans will give women the support they need to work

Our pledge to provide all parents with access to childcare through their school from 8am-6pm will give men and women equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace.

Tonight I will talking on Channel 4's Political Slot about the cost of living crisis afflicting men - and particularly women - across the country. Under this Tory-led government, the number of women out of work reached a 25-year high earlier this year and there are currently 1.05 million unemployed women across the UK.

Between 2010 and April this year, the number of women without work rose by 12%, whilst the number of unemployed men fell over the same period. The Fawcett Society has projected female unemployment may rise to 1.5 million by 2018. If we want to tackle this and give men and women equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace, then we need to address the challenge parents have accessing quality childcare.

Labour has recognised this and announced this week that we will introduce a 'primary childcare guarantee' - giving all parents of primary school children guaranteed access to childcare through their school from 8am-6pm.

I know from speaking with hundreds of constituents and hearing the experience of many friends that it's really hard to juggle full time work with a child or children in primary school. In fact, 62% of parents of school-age children say that they need some form of before-and-after school care in order to combine family and work. But nearly three in ten of these parents are unable to find it. Too many parents can't find the childcare they need to fit around their working day.

Labour's commitment builds on what we did in government. It was Labour who introduced the extended schools policy - offering breakfast clubs so children could be at school from 8; and after-school clubs so parents could pick up at the end of the work day - rather than having to make special arrangements to collect when school finished up to three hours earlier.

As a former school governor, I saw how valuable extended schools were. While I was evaluating a breakfast club back in 2008, I met mums and dads at the school gate anxiously waiting for the door to open so they could drop off their kids and get to work; I witnessed students enjoying some time before the formal start of the learning day to eat a proper breakfast, use the computers (which many didn't have at home) and settle in. Likewise after-school clubs provided children with quiet rooms for homework, safe outdoor space for playing football and other supervised activities. The benefits for both parents and children of these clubs were significant - it was one of Labour's unsung successes.

That's why it was so depressing to learn last year that since the Tory-led government abandoned the extended schools programme, 37% of local authorities have reported a cut in the number of after-school clubs locally and 44% have seen breakfast clubs close in their area.

I saw the impact of this firsthand when I held a local childcare summit in my constituency a few months ago. Parents and I discussed the government's then plans to cut the number of staff needed to look after children - an idea subsequently scrapped because it was such a terrible, poorly informed proposal. It was clear from our conversations that those mums and dads were really struggling because of the lack of access to wraparound care at their childrens' primary school.

Household incomes are seriously being squeezed. Some parents report working part time when they want and need to be working full time. Others have said they've been adversely affected on a zero hours contract and haven't received subsequent hours because they aren't available for a full working day. For children whose parents feel they have no choice, it means taking themselves to school and returning to an empty home.

With so many hardworking families being hit by this cost of living crisis, David Cameron's government should be doing all it can to build an economy that works for working people. They shouldn't make it harder for parents who want to work.

Labour has given a clear commitment for what we would do to help mums and dads. It's good news for our economy, good news for parents and, most importantly, will make a real difference to children everywhere.

A National Union of Teachers stand ask delegates 'What is education for' at the Labour Party conference on September 22, 2013 in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree and Shadow Minister for Energy & Climate Change.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle