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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.