Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 7th June 2022.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:25 pm, 7th June 2022

The title of today’s debate is “Children’s education recovery”, but it should actually be “The economy’s recovery” because we know that investment in education is the key to productivity gain. We also know that, with the unemployment rate at 3.8%, the crisis in skills and the crisis that so many employers are facing, if we could solve the childcare problem, we will go a long way towards helping out in many of our workplaces.

One crisis that the Government have been dealing with in “backlog” Britain in the past week has been what is going on in our airports. How many of those airport jobs were done by women who now cannot be in those jobs because of the childcare crisis and the cost of it?

We know that, in March, two leading organisations for women, Pregnant Then Screwed and Mumsnet, conducted big surveys into the impact of childcare costs. My hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) have mentioned the impact of expensive childcare. We know that 62% of parents say that the cost of childcare is the same or more than their rent or mortgage. In a high-value area such as Hornsey and Wood Green, this can be prohibitive in terms of returning to work. We know that the figure is even higher for black and Asian families, at 71%, and 73% of parents who work full-time say that the cost of childcare is the same or more than their rent or mortgage. Ninety-nine per cent. of respondents said that childcare costs are making the cost of living crisis even more challenging. Forty-three per cent. of mothers say that the cost of childcare has made them consider leaving their job and 7% have quit altogether. How is it possible that it is cheaper for mums to stay at home than to work?

We know that work is a key driver for general wellbeing—or it can be in a high-quality work environment. We know that it is the Governments around the globe who are child friendly and in favour of more women in the workplace who end up having more productive and innovative workplaces, so it is a real driver for the economy.

We know from the same survey that has been mentioned a number of times in this debate that 76% of women who do not have children have said that childcare costs are a major factor in why they have not started a family. This goes to the heart of Government and planning in that we do want to encourage families to have children. We will end up having lower and lower fertility rates, which will have a knock-on effect on the economy in the long term.

We know that childcare pays for itself. The Canadian Government found that, for every $1 they invested in childcare, there was a return of $1.50 to $2.80. They described it as the hat trick of jobs and growth and subsidising childcare in the whole of Canada. It would be worth while if the Government looked at that example.

However, instead of investment in childcare, we see in the UK today a big sticking plaster, hoping the problem will go away. What assessment has been made of the approach under the taxation model? That is simply not being taken up to the degree that it needs to be. It seems to be a bit of a gimmick which only a very small number of women are taking up.

A constituent wrote to me to say that the policy is

“bad for staff, bad for children’s mental health, safety and general wellbeing.”

She has asked me personally to push the Government not to

“risk the lives, happiness and education of our children” by getting the childcare approach wrong.

The Government appear to have no plan, no ambition and no vision for our children or the long-term future for our families. For years, they have been turning a blind eye to this crisis and, in the meantime, generations of young people are being utterly failed. We are living in a low-growth economy. The Government need to wake up to the role that investing in education will play to increase that productivity. Affordable childcare could enable women to go back to work, knowing that their children are receiving the best start in life. The Government should stop tweaking those ratios; it will put even more parents off using childcare if they think it will not be a good start in life for their children.

We know that a decent early years education has a major impact on child development. Education is one of the most powerful means of overcoming disadvantage. Even the Duchess of Cambridge has said this:

“What we experience in the early years, from conception to the age of five, shapes the developing brain, which is why positive physical, emotional and cognitive development during this period is so crucial.”

That is my contribution to the jubilee celebrations. We know that a properly invested-in childcare sector is good for parents and crucial for our children’s recovery after the pandemic.