Cameron is taking families back to the future - Labour will move them forwards

The PM has hit families with a triple childcare whammy of falling places, rising nursery costs and cuts to support. Labour will show there is another way.

The reports published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on family breadwinners and poverty are a wake-up call to a government hell bent on turning back the clock on child poverty and family opportunity.

The NatCen and IPPR reports for the JRF show the true depth and extent of those on the breadline, with many working families struggling to make ends meet as David Cameron’s cost of living crisis bites. The reports show that the risk of poverty is greater for children in couple families with one traditional breadwinner, with single-earner families comprising 30 per cent of the families with children in poverty in 2011/12. The reports show that 55 per cent of families in poverty have someone in work, a shocking indictment of a government allegedly committed to making work pay.

Under David Cameron many families are finding one income alone is not enough to balance family budgets at the end of each month. He has hit families with a childcare triple whammy of falling places, rising nursery costs (up six times more than wages last year) and cuts to support of up to £1,500 for some families. The JRF rightly highlight affordable, quality childcare as a key driver for tackling low maternal employment and boosting family income. Labour’s new agenda does just this.  

Labour in government made headway on these issues. The IFS has shown that during our time in office both absolute and relative poverty fell markedly. Increases in employment helped to raise family income alongside tax credits, the national minimum wage, support for childcare and investment in the early years.

David Cameron is taking us back to the future with prices rising faster than wages in 40 out of the 41 months he’s been in power. The Tory-led government is pushing families into poverty and many low paid women can only access poorly paid part-time jobs because of a lack of accessible and affordable childcare. Universal Credit will create further barriers to work for some second earner households and some women will actually pay to work if they increase their hours. Under Universal Credit, as soon as a second earner enters work, 65p of every £1 earned will be lost to withdrawn benefits. This could affect 900,000 potential second earners disincentivising work and perpetuating poverty and inequality.

Labour’s new agenda will make a difference for working families making work pay and helping parents balance work and family life. Giving parents a primary childcare guarantee to help them manage before and after school childcare will ease the logistical nightmare some face and give parents more flexibility to work. Labour will legislate so that parents can access childcare between the hours of 8am and 6pm through their local school. Extending the provision of free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents will help mums, and it is still mainly mums, to work part-time without having to worry about childcare costs. This is worth around £1,500 per child for hard pressed working families. Shared parental leave is important as well. It is crucial in giving women the choice and the chance to return to the same job and retain their earning potential, rather than taking time out of work after they have children which, for many, means they will never again have the same pay and status.

Affordable high-quality childcare, make work pay contracts for companies paying the living wage and better family-friendly policies are all part of the new agenda Labour is developing. Our new agenda is a sign of our intent for a better future for families and children.

Ed Miliband speaks to an audience on living standards at Battersea Power station on November 5, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

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

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear