David Cameron talks to two-year-old Theo during a visit to a London Early Years Foundation nursery on January 11, 2010 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We need to end the childcare crunch on our families and the economy

Families have been hit by a triple whammy in childcare: rising childcare costs, falling early years places and cuts to financial support.

Today's important report from the IPPR lays bare the difficulties David Cameron's childcare crunch is causing for parents and for our economy. The report shows that maternal employment rates in the UK are lower than the OECD average. It finds that if we had a childcare system that worked for working mothers, we'd be able to help an extra 150,000 women into work, benefiting the public finances by up to £1.5bn a year.

Yet families have been hit by a triple whammy in childcare under this government: rising childcare costs, up 30% since 2010, falling early years places and cuts to financial support. David Cameron's cost-of-living crisis has meant parents are struggling to make ends meet and it is even more difficult for work to pay. A recent survey for Mumsnet and Resolution Foundation recently found that a third of stay-at-home mums would like to work and a fifth of those in work wanted to work more hours but couldn't because of the soaring cost of childcare. Mothers working part-time earn about 22 per cent less per hour than women working full-time, with women reporting problems accessing before and after school care. The biggest employment gap is for mothers of three and four year olds.

Flexible and affordable high quality childcare can boost the economy and make a difference for mums and dads, helping them make choices about going back to work and to work the hours they choose. This not only helps grow the economy, but it helps tackle the unfair motherhood pay penalty women face when they return to work after having children. Labour is investing in childcare to grow our economy, help make work pay and give children the best start in life. Our plans to increase free childcare provision from 15 to 25 hours for three-and-four-year-olds with parents in work will make a real difference to families struggling under this government. It will give parents choice about increasing their hours or returning to work after caring for young children. Worth £1,500, parents will be able to work part-time without having to worry about childcare costs. Guaranteeing before and after school care in a local school will help parents with the logistical nightmare of before and after school care. This primary childcare guarantee will support parents balancing work and family life.

We know women who take career breaks face a pay and status penalty for the rest of their lives. Affordable, flexible high-quality childcare is part of the answer to ensuring that parents have choices to meet their aspirations for their families. There is a gap in support at the critical 0-2 years period and I'll continue to champion support for families at this crucial time when parents make choices about returning to work.

Labour understands this dilemma and is working to alleviate the childcare crunch families' face. As we move towards the election , childcare will be centre stage and this IPPR report shows just how high the stakes are for families and the economy if the government continues to get it wrong.

Lucy Powell MP is the shadow minister for childcare and children 

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

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Harriet Harman warns that the Brexit debate has been dominated by men

The former deputy leader hit out at the marginalisation of women's voices in the EU referendum campaign.

The EU referendum campaign has been dominated by men, Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman warns today. The veteran MP, who was acting Labour leader between May and September last year, said that the absence of female voices in the debate has meant that arguments about the ramifications of Brexit for British women have not been heard.

Harman has written to Sharon White, the Chief of Executive of Ofcom, expressing her “serious concern that the referendum campaign has to date been dominated by men.” She says: “Half the population of this country are women and our membership of the EU is important to women’s lives. Yet men are – as usual – pushing women out.”

Research by Labour has revealed that since the start of this year, just 10 women politicians have appeared on the BBC’s Today programme to discuss the referendum, compared to 48 men. On BBC Breakfast over the same time period, there have been 12 male politicians interviewed on the subject compared to only 2 women. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, 18 men and 6 women have talked about the referendum.

In her letter, Harman says that the dearth of women “fails to reflect the breadth of voices involved with the campaign and as a consequence, a narrow range [of] issues ends up being discussed, leaving many women feeling shut out of the national debate.”

Harman calls on Ofcom “to do what it can amongst broadcasters to help ensure women are properly represented on broadcast media and that serious issues affecting female voters are given adequate media coverage.” 

She says: "women are being excluded and the debate narrowed.  The broadcasters have to keep a balance between those who want remain and those who want to leave. They should have a balance between men and women." 

A report published by Loughborough University yesterday found that women have been “significantly marginalised” in reporting of the referendum, with just 16 per cent of TV appearances on the subject being by women. Additionally, none of the ten individuals who have received the most press coverage on the topic is a woman.

Harman's intervention comes amidst increasing concerns that many if not all of the new “metro mayors” elected from next year will be men. Despite Greater Manchester having an equal number of male and female Labour MPs, the current candidates for the Labour nomination for the new Manchester mayoralty are all men. Luciana Berger, the Shadow Minister for mental health, is reportedly considering running to be Labour’s candidate for mayor of the Liverpool city region, but will face strong competition from incumbent mayor Joe Anderson and fellow MP Steve Rotheram.

Last week, Harriet Harman tweeted her hope that some of the new mayors would be women.  

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.