Written by Dotty Winters

In The News

The kids aren’t alright

Universal childcare benefits us all, not just parents, says Dotty Winters. How about some AND instead of OR?

Last week Tabitha Morton, the Women’s Equality Party candidate for Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor outlined plans for universal, affordable childcare for all children from the end of parental leave at nine months until school age.

“Childcare is more expensive in the UK than anywhere else in Europe,” she said, “By making Liverpool City Region the first place in the UK to offer universal childcare, I will make it the place that families and businesses want to be. A caring economy will put money in parents’ pockets, create thousands of jobs and improve children’s life chances.”

“Until we start to look for changes that increase economic benefit, fairness and hope, we’re settling for much more of the same.'”

Putting politics aside (and not entering the debate about who is, or isn’t, likely to become the Liverpool City Region Mayor) this is a proposal that deserves some discussion. Innovative ideas so often come from understanding the constraints at play. In a world where we have a fixed economic envelope, almost all policy proposals have centred on ways of doing less, for less. But that isn’t the only option. We need to look for those few ideas that grow the economic envelope or allow us to do more. Yes, these ideas are rare, but when one trots past us, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take a closer look?

Austerity has created a political climate where many people have heard a lot about hard choices at a time where they haven’t felt like they are experiencing much choice at all. Coupled with this has been an underlying (and at times evidenced) suggestion that the choices we are presented with aren’t the only ones available or even the best ones.

The proposal by the Women’s Equality Party deserves consideration because, regardless of ideology, the economic impact of affordable childcare is pretty well evidenced; it creates jobs, lowers the barriers for people who are looking to return to work and has a real chance to provide a societal benefit as a return on the investment.

This idea also benefits the life chances of children, one of the core indicators in all those Nordic countries that we love to look to for inspiration. And yes, of course, it benefits women, but only because they are disproportionately disadvantaged in the workplace when they have children (and in fact, even if they don’t).

This approach increases the options for all parents and potentially opens choices for two-parent families who want to share the load. If the WEP is right about the wider economic benefits this approach offers, it also has the potential to achieve these without penalising those who choose not to have children (in that, a proposal which creates more economic gain should create economic benefits for all). This moves us to a world where we must choose to “live within our means” or “create a fairer society” to a world where we might get to consider swapping an “or” for an “and”.

So far, so very logical. Proposals like this are the opposite of austerity. This is the politics of abundance, rooted in sound economics and not founded on the false belief that all funding savings or funding cuts are equal.

So, will it catch on? I doubt it. The combination of the ongoing perception that parenting is a female issue and years of policy created, implemented or removed without evidence means that we are unlikely to see this approach tried. Which is a shame, because until we start to look for changes that increase economic benefit, fairness and hope, we’re settling for much more of the same. With a snap election accelerating towards us we have a very narrow window in which to expect more from our politicians, now is great time to hear about great ideas and to ask those who seek to lead us why their ideas are better.

The exciting thing about this suggestion isn’t really about the potential it offers, it’s more about the approach it suggests: a firm hypothesis, based on solid evidence, which can be tested as a local pilot. This scientific approach allows ideas to be properly tested before wider implementation, and gives us a chance to try new and creative ideas. As parties rush to get their manifestos together we’ll be hearing all sorts of ideas of what we need to do; I hope there are a few ideas in there which have the potential to change the conversation.

@DottyWinters

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.