Cameron’s childcare crunch is hitting family finances and the economy

Parents are struggling to cope with a triple whammy of rising nursery costs, plummeting childcare places and cuts to support. Labour is offering an alternative.

As a working mum myself, I know the impact of the cost of childcare on family budgets. New figures by the Labour Party released today underline the childcare crunch facing families. Already hit by a cost of living crisis of David Cameron’s making, mums and dads are struggling to cope with a triple whammy of rising nursery costs, plummeting childcare places and cuts to support through tax credits.

Under this government, parents have been hit by a nursery price hike of 30% since 2010 – five times faster than pay. The average bill for a part-time nursery place has rocketed to £107 per week, with parents working part-time on average wages having to work from Monday until Thursday before they pay their weekly childcare costs.

A crisis in childcare places is fuelling this rise in prices under Cameron and Clegg. Figures from Ofsted show that there are 35,000 fewer places since 2009. Many childcare providers are small businesses buffeted by the poor economic situation. David Cameron’s broken promises to back Sure Start meant that in many areas this vital service for children and families is withering away. There are 578 fewer children’s centres since May 2010, the equivalent of the loss of three centres a week.

The government are not just failing families on the childcare crunch; they’re failing the economy too. Fewer women with children in the UK work than in many of our leading competitor countries and a recent survey by Asda Mumdex found that 70% of stay at home mums said they would be worse off in the current climate if they worked because of the cost of childcare. The childcare crunch is trapping women at home who want to work and stifling their economic potential.

Labour is on the side of working parents. Today, Ed Miliband has reiterated our pledge to introduce a legal guarantee of access to wraparound care from 8am to 6pm at primary schools. By 2010, 99% of schools were providing access to before and after school childcare but David Cameron abandoned Labour’s extended schools programme and many parents face a logistical nightmare.

We will also extend free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents. The value of this extra childcare support is over £1,500 per child per year. The next Labour government will increase the bank levy rate to raise an extra £800m in order to meet the cost of this extra support for families.

The government has done nothing in this Parliament to help families with childcare costs. Labour’s bold new measures are a sign of intent. They will tackle the childcare crunch and make a difference for mums and dads.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg sit together as they visit the Wandsworth Day Nursery in London on March 19, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. 

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.