Combining work with parenting is now pretty much the norm for most of us- whether through choice or financial necessity. So we need to be able to reply on really good childcare, and we need to be able to afford it. Compared to the mid-1990s, the landscape is transformed, of course, with new nurseries, hugely expanded nursery provision in schools and more financial help available for parents. The previous government supported the building of new nurseries, such as at Essendine, Macroom Road and Praed Street; built Children's Centres ( Bayswater, Church Street, Maida Vale, Queen's Park and Westbourne, amongst others) and funded school expansion as well as childcare vouchers and the Childcare Tax Credit.But for London parents in particular, costs are soaring, so that many find themselves almost working simply to pay for their childcare. For example, a full-time under-twos' place in London is on average £2,500 a year more expensive than it is in the rest of the UK. Perhaps it is not surprising that London's maternal employment rates is the lowest in the UK, but it is worrying.
The government has just announced extra help with costs, and I welcome anything which will ease the pressure, even if that help doesn't come until next year. But let's look at it in context. On average, families have already lost more than £1,500 a year in child care support over the term of the Government, through the reduction in tax credits and child benefit. Over the same period, nursery and child care costs have gone up by 30%. Taking those two figures together, families are more than £2,000 a year worse off when it comes to meeting their child care costs than they were in 2010. The scheme and the money are welcome, but they will only get parents back to where they were in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Early Intervention Grant, which pays for Children's Centres in Westminster, has been nearly halved.
The Minister responsible for childcare told Parliament earlier in March that " We want to see school nurseries and children's centres open from 8 am to 6 pm to provide flexible child care".
Yet at precisely that moment, Westminster nurseries, like Mary Paterson were having to write to the Council saying "Westminster is proposing to STOP funding all full-time places from September 2015...schools will then have to choose between charging for anything above the 15 hours the government are funding, or only providing part-time places". In other words, we are going backwards!
This is a real mess and it needs to be sorted out, for the benefit of our children, and also to help parents take up the employment opportunities that would help the family finances.
Please do let me know what you think- and filling in my childcare survey would be a great help.