It’s time for a better deal for working parents – we need a childcare revolution

We should be celebrating, not berating, the role parents play in the workforce and in society.

Working parents, and mums particularly, get a raw deal. Often seen as scatty and clock watching, they face prejudice at work and can often be singled out for being more interested in what’s happening around the kitchen table than the boardroom table.

I want to champion working parents and bust this myth, so in my first keynote speech as shadow minister for childcare and children today, I’m calling for a new debate about the role of working parents and their contribution to the workplace and society.

Parents are highly productive at work because they have to be, often doing a day's work even before leaving the house. Yet many still feel guilty for leaving the kids and going out to work. My generation of women expected that we could 'have it all' but we are all too often still having to choose between career and motherhood.

Balancing work and family life has become increasingly difficult for many parents. Public policy has failed to keep up with the changes in family life. We now have more women than ever in work; more women who want to work, and more who need to work; more and more dads want to play an active role; families need to work more hours and more anti-social hours to make ends meet; parents not only struggle to get by but also struggle for the time and space to enjoy their kids.

That’s why we need a childcare revolution that puts parents in the driving seat and gives mums and dads a real choice about when and how they want to return to work after having a baby. To realise this step change, we need an ambitious agenda for childcare and family policy to crack the impenetrable glass ceiling for working mums.

Labour’s new policy of an extension of free childcare for three and four year olds with working parents from 15 to 25 hours and the introduction of a primary childcare guarantee to help families manage before and after school care demonstrate that we are serious about supporting working mums and dads.

I will work with parents and the sector to develop an ambitious agenda for childcare and family policy that meets the needs of families today and in the future. Working to build a movement for radical childcare reform that leads to a cultural shift in how we see childcare, how we value parents in the workplace and how we set a generation of women free.

As the IPPR have reported today, boosting childcare will benefit the economy and increase maternal employment. In the same way we make the economic case for infrastructure projects, we will show that childcare isn’t an optional extra but fundamental to our future economic prosperity.

Labour is the party of the family. The party of parents and the party of women. Labour understands this childcare challenge. I will champion this mission.

Lucy Powell MP is the shadow minister for childcare and children  

Paradise Park Sure Start Centre in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

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

Photo: Getty
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.