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. 

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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser