Article 8 out of 18

Should the Government provide free universal childcare?


Dalia Ben-Galim, associate director for families and work, IPPR (Institute of Public and Policy Research)

Dr Richard House, senior lecturer in Early Childhood at the University of Winchester and founder of Early Childhood Action

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Currently, the Government funds 15 hours of free childcare for all three to four-year-olds and disadvantaged two-year-olds in England. Wales and Scotland follow similar policies.

However the think tank IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) is calling for the Government to offer free childcare to all parents of two-year-olds and increase the number of hours of the early years entitlement for three to four-year-olds.

Spencer Thompson and Dalia Ben-Galim argue that “there are too many mothers missing from work, and in large part this is because of the lack of affordable childcare”. They say: “This is not an easy challenge to solve, but the benefits to children, families and society could be transformational.”

They believe offering universal childcare would go a long way to helping more mothers back to work.

The IPPR researchers say “maternal employment rates are important. Families where parents work, experience a significantly lower risk of child poverty. By making childcare more affordable for parents, work pays more and mothers are better able to enter a job, and to work more hours.”

They would also like to see the free entitlement becoming more flexible. “At the moment, even though it is open to all children aged three and four, the free entitlement is still not supporting maternal employment very strongly.

“Local authorities and providers need to do more to enable mothers to use their entitlement more flexibly – for example, using it to cover a couple of longer days rather than short daily sessions. This is particularly important for those mothers at the margins of employment.”

Dr Richard House believes universal childcare would be bad for both children and family life and is being proposed for the good of the economy rather than for children’s wellbeing.

He says: “In 'The Condition of Britain' report, the IPPR has recommended moving towards universal childcare provision, and the Labour Party recently announced plans to provide free universal childcare in the long run.

“Yet Labour’s own research survey, The Modern British Family, found 81 per cent saying that ideally, one parent would ‘stay at home with the children’, and 83 per cent of families with children reported being ‘increasingly squeezed for time’.

“Not only is there scant public support for this policy, then, but there’s ample evidence that culturally ‘institutionalising’ universal childcare will be bad for both young children and family life.

“It will compromise vital early attachment relationships essential for young children, and reduce parents’ opportunities for learning about the highly complex emotional task of managing family life.

“Eminently achievable alternative policies, like investing in parenting education and community-based initiatives (e.g. Parent & Child groups), bringing down the cost of living (especially housing), implementing family-friendly allowances and tax breaks, and helping employers implement more flexible working milieu, can easily help us avoid this latest attack on family life.

“The misguided political ‘Dutch auction’ on who can make the ‘best’ childcare offer is potentially catastrophic for young children’s well-being; and their developmental needs must never be sacrificed to ‘the needs of the economy’.”


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Fiona Tredinnick

Fiona Tredinnick

07 Mar 2014 9:17 AM

At last, Richard House is making the real picture clear, that finance is driving these decisions not the desires of parents or the long term welfare of family relationships. The taxation received from childcare institutions, workers and mothers working in addition to their childcare responsibilities must amount to a considerable sum. The proportion of income required for housing needs is surely the first thing to tackle for the welfare of most families. It is also vital to change public opinion towards children who seem to be viewed by some as the possession and sole responsibility of the parents. They are, in fact, citizens and then workers of the future who will be running our country as doctors, street sweepers and daily carers for the older generation. Good intergenerational personal relationships are vital for us all. Let's make sure they start with the family who should not be put under pressure caused by lack of time together.