Today’s coverage of David Cameron’s childcare policies has illustrated how out of touch this Government is. While they give tax cuts to those at the top, they have totally failed to support hardworking families with the cost of childcare.
As one mother, who works from home as a childminder, put it: “I remain unconvinced that it does anything for the typical working/lower middle class family”.
She is right. According to the Resolution Foundation think tank, 900,000 low income working families will not benefit from David Cameron’s childcare vouchers.
And of course no-one will get any help until 2015. There has been nothing for families in five years from this Government, while costs continue to rise and wages stagnate. And of course when it comes to living standards, hardworking parents have already seen their family budgets squeezed.
Working parents with two children have already lost £1,500 a year from the cut in childcare tax credits. Added to that, many mums have lost hundreds of pounds because of cuts to maternity pay, child benefit and pregnancy grants.
By the next election, George Osborne will have taken a total of £15 billion out of parents’ pockets.
All this is happening while costs continue to spiral. Childcare costs are rising faster than wages. A parent buying 50 hours of childcare per week for a child under two now faces an annual bill of nearly £11,000 per year or £14,000 per year in London. That’s the equivalent of a second mortgage.
And yet provision is getting patchier. Unbelievably, there are now 5,000 fewer childcare places since last year, as nurseries close down and childminders go out of business.
And many nurseries and children’s centres are charging top up fees for services that used to be free, pricing yet more hardworking families out of the labour market.
This isn’t just bad news for parents and children, it’s bad news for the economy too.
Labour want to ensure parents are able to go back to work if they want to. That’s why we’re looking to countries in Scandinavia who provide stronger support for childcare and where female unemployment is lower.
But this Government has made it more difficult for new mums to return to their job.
An Aviva survey found that 32,000 women left the workforce in one year since summer 2010 due to high costs of childcare making it more cost-effective to stay at home.
The summer holidays are a particularly tricky time for working parents. Those who can’t afford a private nanny or nursery are often forced to take time off work or rely on help from friends or families.
Labour was working to address this in Government. We tripled the number of holiday childcare places, but in their first year this Government cut 10,000 of those places, and have slashed the budget for holiday childcare by 40% so far.
There’s no doubt that childcare costs are one of the biggest drivers of living standards. The trouble is that hardworking parents have seen their income squeezed since the last election.
Only David Cameron could be so out of touch to think parents will be grateful for some help in 2015, when they’ve already seen their childcare support cut.
Sharon Hodgson MP is Labour’s Shadow Children’s Minister