More rumours are circulating about the Government’s childcare plans, but none of them look like more investment in the sector.
More rumours continue to circulate about the Government’s plans for childcare, with most proposals focusing on making childcare more affordable by not investing any extra money in it. One that was eye-catching over the weekend was for the Government to give parents cash which they can choose to spend where they like. This might seem popular, on the face of it, given that any money in a crisis is welcome. Would people need to show they had spent the money on childcare? Does it matter? Why shouldn’t parents be able to choose what childcare they want [if such as thing as choice even makes sense when people are starving]? We know that many parents don’t pay anything for childcare currently – they opted out years ago, in large part because of the expense. They could give grandparents who often step up to the plate when it comes to childcare some much needed extra cash.
On the other hand, coupled with the possibility of deregulating childminding so anyone can do it and lowering ratios in nurseries, such a policy could be disastrous for quality of care and child safety. Is it just a plan to undermine professional childcare services – who have been very critical of the lack of investment in childcare over the years – and could it send many more nurseries to the wall, meaning those who do rely on nursery care, who haven’t got grandparents or other relatives nearby, are left high and dry or reliant on unregistered carers as they are forced, through threat of benefits sanctions, to work as close to full-time hours as possible?
What is often missing from this childcare on the cheap model is that childcare is about more than simply looking after children. It is also about early years education and preparing children for school. I remember as a school governor the reports we were seeing of four year olds arriving with no social skills at all, not able to speak even a sentence, let alone an ability to write letters or read anything. It was a huge concern for teachers at the time and this was over a decade ago because they knew and research shows that the gap in educational attainment that presents at the start of primary school is not recovered and in fact worsens over time, meaning that inequality is embedded in the system.
The problem is that the Government is looking at this through the lens of childcare being like buying stuff from the supermarket. But we are more than a series of shopping decisions. Human beings are more than just consumers. Care matters and it requires proper recognition and investment. That is how we grow. Not through a race to the bottom.