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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Stop pretending an independent Scotland couldn't join the EU

The SNP has a different set of questions to answer. 

"But Spain", is the common response to a discussion of whether, by voting for independence, Scotland could effectively reverse Brexit. "Disaster for Sturgeon as Spain BACKS May over plans to block Scottish independence vote," declared the Brexiteer's favourite, The Express, this month. Spain, according to this narrative, would unilaterally puncture the SNP's bubble by vetoing readmission to the EU. An independent Scotland would be cast adrift into the North Sea.

I just don't buy it. I have put this question to everyone from former EU member state ambassadors to the former World Trade Organisation head and the answer has been the same: "It can be managed." 

There is also a crucial difference between Spain vetoing Scotland entering the EU, and considering its application on its own merit. Spain is indeed nervous about encouraging Catalonian separatists. But read between the lines. Spain's position on Scotland has so far been to say it would have to exit the EU, become independent and reapply. 

Last time I checked, that's not a veto. And from an EU perspective, this isn't as arduous as it might sound. Scotland's regulations would be in line with EU regulations. It would not upset the balance of power, nor fuel an identity crisis, in the way that Turkey's application did. Spain could justify acquiesence on the basis that the circumstances were extraordinary. And for a club struggling to hold together, an eager defector from the renegade Brexit Britain would be a PR coup. 

Where it is far more arduous is for the Scottish National Party, and the independence movement. As I've written before, roughly a third of SNP voters also voted Leave. Apart from the second-glass-of-wine question of whether quitting one union to join another really counts as independence, Scotland's fishing industry has concrete concerns about the EU. SNP MP Joanna Cherry has observed that it is "no secret" that many Leave voters worked in fishing. 

Then there are the questions all but the most diehard Remain voters will want answered. Would Scotland take the Euro? Would a land border with England be an acceptable sacrifice? Would an independent Scotland in the EU push for reforms at Brussels, or slavishly follow bureacracy's lead? The terms of EU membership for an independent Scotland may look quite different from those enjoyed by the UK.

Rather than continuing to shoot down the idea that an independent Scotland could join the EU - a club happy to accept other small countries like Ireland, Austria and Malta - opponents of the Scottish independence movement should be instead asking these questions. They are far harder to answer. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.