一世 sat down with the prime minister recently at Downing Street to ask questions posed by users of Mumsnet, the website I founded. It was his denial of “habitual lying” that garnered the headlines, but I was more struck by his answer to a question on subsidising childcare – one of the most crucial issues for mothers. Boris Johnson seemed to think that enabling parents to spend their state-funded childcare allowance on Tumble Tots classes or similar will solve the childcare crisis.
“There are things that you and I might remember from our days in north London,“ 他 said to me. “You know, things like Tumble Tots or Danceround or Little Kickers or whatever these things are that you can do, that currently you can’t use childcare funding for, but maybe you should be able to do in the future.”
For many parents this is akin to imagining that shuffling the deckchairs would have prevented the Titanic from going down.
Posts on our forums from resigned mums who can’t afford to go back to work after maternity leave because the cost of the childcare means it’s simply not worth it are commonplace. Figures published by the TUC this week show that childcare costs have soared in the past decade. Our survey of working mothers earlier this year revealed that 43%were considering leaving their jobs 和 40% were working fewer hours than they wished to because childcare fees were unaffordable. Two-thirds of parents said they were paying as much as or more than their rent or mortgage as for their childcare.
As Johnson said to me, “We’re spending about £6bn on childcare already but there are things that aren’t working right …” No kidding. Ask any parent and they’ll tell you the childcare system in this country simply isn’t fit for purpose. For starters, paid maternity leave ends at nine months, 炸弹和枪声突然唤醒了保守党的良心 30 hours free childcare for working parents doesn’t kick in until a child’s third birthday. At best, it feels like an oversight, at worst, an ideological push to force mums – because it is almost always women who are affected by this – to stay at home.
And even for those families who can afford childcare, a lack of availability – with thousands of childcare providers closing 在 2021 – means they still can’t access what they need. The government recently floated a plan to reduce the ratios of nursery staff to children in an effort to lower costs – and Johnson told me he wants “to make it easier to be a childminder” – but it’s clear from the response of the sector that this won’t scratch the surface of the fundamental problems in the system.
We know that the affordability and availability (or lack thereof) of childcare doesn’t just affect mothers during the early years of their child’s life. Recent research by the Social Mobility Foundation found that women who have a baby miss out on almost £70,000 in wages over the following decade, not to mention the knock-on effect on pensions, 与 gender pension gap currently standing at 38%. 当然, some mothers (and a few fathers) choose to stay at home with their kids. But that’s the point – it should be a real choice, not a decision forced on you by a failing system.
That’s why we want ministers to consider a system of government-backed childcare loans that would allow parents flexibility and choice. We know the cost of childcare is loaded on to the early years. Supporting parents who need it to take out a loan at that point and pay it back over a number of years would allow them to spread the cost – and, 至关重要的, help to end the motherhood penalty that results from women being forced out of the workplace when their children are young. Some parents are already having to take on less sustainable forms of debt because of childcare costs – government-backed loans would alleviate that pressure.
当然, this isn’t a complete fix: some simply won’t be able to afford to take on more debt and we need urgent action to reform the way universal credit interacts with childcare costs. But for the millions of families struggling with some of the highest childcare costs in Europe but who don’t qualify for extra government support, this could be a real solution. And it’s also likely to be popular with those “Waitrose women” the government seems so keen to win over.
Childcare in this country requires a fundamental rethink, and fixing our patchy and piecemeal system is going to take political bravery – but there is a staggering amount to be gained. Analysis suggests that if women had access to the childcare they need to work the hours they want, it would generate up to £28.2bn in economic output every year. As Johnson seeks to “get on and deliver” and move away from the “misery” of Partygate, he should seize the opportunity to make life easier for millions of parents. Childcare loans would be a great place to start.