Poll suggests Red Wall support for universal free childcare

A new poll shows significant support for a free universal childcare system.

Close up of child's hands playing with colorful plastic bricks and red motocicle at the table. Toddler having fun and building out of bright constructor bricks. Early years childcare


Sixty six per cent of voters in Red Wall constituencies support free, universal childcare, according to a new poll in advance of the Tory party leadership debate this week.

The poll of just over 1,000 people by think tanks Women’s Budget Group and Common Wealth and campaign group Pregnant Then Secrewed found 66% of voters in Red Wall constituencies either somewhat or strongly support ‘a policy of free universal childcare’. Fourteen per cent opposed a free universal childcare policy and 15% were undecided.

Research from the Women’s Budget Group shows that 90% of the investment required to support a policy of free, universal childcare would be recouped through additional revenue and savings generated by the policy, including getting more women into work or into more stable employment. The research, which was done in the early part of the Covid pandemic when there were big worries about unemployment, also shows a free childcare system would generate 1.7 million jobs. Since then the problem has been more about labour shortages, but the picture across the UK is very variable and there are worries that the cost of living crisis could tip the country into recession.

The poll comes after a slew of reports on the high and rising cost of childcare in the UK, continuing falls in childminders and rising numbers of nursery closures as childcare providers complain that government funding for ‘free’ childcare fails to cover the true cost. workingmums.co.uk’s focused last week on the career impact of the cost and lack of availability of holiday childcare on parents, particularly mothers.

The Women’s Budget Group has long been calling for a Covid recovery built on the care sector. Its 2020 report called for a re-envisioning of what is meant by the economy, investment in social and physical infrastructure – including the creation of a Universal Care Service, improved wages in caring jobs, more flexible working and paid caring leave,  tax system reforms, a universal basic income and concrete measures to tackle the international economic system.

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of Women’s Budget Group, said: “This polling sends a resounding message to politicians on all sides that it’s time to prioritise investment in social infrastructure.

“Despite the best efforts of the brilliant people working in the sector, childcare in the UK is broken: parents can’t afford fees, childcare staff can’t afford to live, and providers can’t afford to stay open. Recently we’ve seen countries such as Canada and Australia make significant investments in childcare recognising its essential role in enabling maternal employment and closing the attainment gap for children. The UK is behind the curve on this. Without significant investment in childcare, we’ll continue to see women ostracised from the labour market and employers struggling to fill vacancies, and alongside that the Government will fail on its commitments to both gender equality and levelling-up.”

Joeli Brearley, Founder of Pregnant then Screwed, said: “Our own research of 26,000 parents showed us that 43% of mothers have considered leaving their jobs as a direct result of childcare costs and now we have the data to prove that 66% of voters support the idea of free universal childcare for preschool aged children. It is time for the Government to take this seriously and invest in good quality, affordable, accessible childcare for all children.”

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