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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.

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

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