Childcare is the policy that dare not speak its name.
Seriously. Go search for it in the Scottish Government website. Add the terms SNP + childcare or Labour + childcare into your favourite search engine and see what it produces.
Oh you might get something. But it will be ancient or amount to a few limp lines promising to do something about it or acknowledging its importance.
And yes, we do have a national childcare strategy. Indeed, it was the first devolved policy strategy to be produced. Since then, no reviews and a serious withering on the vine.
It’s the policy that is willo’ the wisp. Teachers regularly complain that parents treat school like childcare provision. And why shouldn’t we, when there’s nowt else available. Nice for them to be able to take seriously warnings not to travel unless necessary during bad weather, but our employers are often less forgiving. And our weans need to be somewhere....
Childcare has metamorphosed into parenting support and early years activity at local authority level, despite them being distinct disciplines and policy areas. It’s bairns, so it can all be lumped together? Eh, no. Childcare is necessary in its own right. Childcare and the need for it doesn’t stop at the age of five. And while caring for children is the rather obvious point of parenting, that is not the same as childcare.
Childcare is what parents need in order to be able to go to work. But we need it to be affordable, available at times when we need it (which includes early mornings and late evenings), and accessible on a whole host of levels. Most importantly of all we need to be able to trust it -- and the people who deliver it -- to provide high quality, appropriate care for our children.
Get a group of parents -- male and female -- together and pretty soon, the subject turns to childcare. It’s the reason why some highly qualified, highly educated women take years to get back to work, discovering when they do return that the career ladder they so assiduously climbed pre-children has disappeared completely.
It’s the reason -- despite what right wing tabloids might tell you -- so many lone parents are on benefits and not in work. That, and the fact that so many employers are highly resistant to the idea of school day and term time working.
Those that have used childcare over the years, all have a horror story to tell about provision they have used, that still causes them to shudder many years after the event. Equally, they all have a good news tale to relate about wonderful care given for peanuts. My own afterschool club comes into this category. It is my daily lifesaver.
You would think that in the 21st Century, quality, affordable, universal, accessible, suitable childcare would be a given. Yet, recent research conducted by Save the Children and the Daycare Trust found that Scots have some of the highest childcare costs in the whole of the UK and that families currently not working find it hard to take up jobs, training or study due to a lack of suitable childcare.
The high cost of childcare in Scotland means that for many, work really does not pay and some are going without essentials, cutting back on food and heating, in order to continue in work.
Yet, Plan MacB, the Scottish Government’s economic strategy to deliver growth during these hard economic times, is silent on the issue of childcare provision.
Worse, the UK Government, through its abrasive plans to dismantle and refashion the welfare state, have refused to listen to charities which suggest you simply cannot throw lone parents off benefits for failing to take up work if the reason for this is a lack of childcare.
And with typical sleight of hand they have cut the amount of childcare tax credit families can claim from 80% to 70% of the total cost. A small percentage shift for them, a dire loss of support for many families.
If we are to emerge from the current financial doldrums with a vibrant workforce, we need policies and strategies that acknowledge the particular needs of families, especially lone parent ones. We need, in fact, some thinking and investment in providing affordable, suitable childcare that can meet the individual needs of children and their parents.