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Childcare plans ignore real needs
SUCH IS the blurring of Tory and Labour policies that they're now trying to outdo each other over who can provide the best childcare for working parents. As usual, when you scratch the surface of these proposals, they are not as tempting as they first appear.
Blair calls for before- and after-school clubs for all primary school children but admits this will involve the private sector. To avoid low-quality care, the teachers' union NUT is calling for a trained teacher in each child centre and well-paid childcare workers to run them. Unfortunately, this is likely to be considered too expensive.
While Blair talks of clubs at a cost of £2 to £3 an hour, the glaring gap in his proposals is childcare provision for 0-3 year olds. In this area the cost of day-care nurseries is often prohibitive and places scarce. This is precisely the time that parents pay out the most for childcare.
The Tories propose changing the system of childcare tax credits for lower income families and replacing them with a flat-rate payment that would inevitably fall well short of the real cost of childcare. They also believe that even the rich should get help from the state through tax relief to pay for their nannies and au-pairs.
A crucial issue which neither party addresses is that of working hours. Many parents would like to spend more time with their children, which they could only do with a shorter working week and no reduction of pay.
'Family-friendly policies' feature high on both parties' agenda in the run-up to the general election. But they are more concerned about the battle to win votes than the real needs of children and struggling working parents.
Blair has the nerve to shift some money towards childcare while running down our public services with cuts and privatisation. The very parents he claims to help may not even need childcare if - like many civil servants - they are threatened with job cuts!
- Public funding and provision of a network of good quality, flexible childcare that is free and accessible to all parents who want it.
- A living wage and high level training for all childcare workers.
- A shorter working week with no loss of pay for all workers.
In The Socialist 20 November 2004:
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