Childcare Policy and the Economy

Maria Lyons wonders why we now ignore the right of families to take care of their children and whether modern assumptions about what is good for the economy ignore what is good for our children and our communities.

The North East coast of Scotland is admittedly not known for its wonderful weather but we do have the occasional unexpectedly beautiful sunny day, even in the autumn months. On one such day a few weeks ago I took my daughter to the beach. The beach was deserted, save for a handful of older people walking their dogs. As we were digging and splashing in the breakers a woman came up to me to say she was so happy to see a child outside, playing in the sand like her children used to do. We chatted briefly about how one rarely sees (or hears!) children in public spaces anymore, because even the very young tend nowadays to be in nursery or some form of care during the day.

This strangely silent week-day world is of course a result of the fact that most parents of young children either want to work or must work. Whether a desire or an obligation on the part of parents, the gradual transfer of the care and raising of children from families to paid professionals is a socio-cultural phenomenon that is wholeheartedly encouraged by the present Government. Indeed, at a time dominated by political division and discord, there is one policy objective that is unanimously supported by all the political parties in the United Kingdom; that is the aim to increase provision of free childcare for three to four year olds from the current 15 hours a week to 30 hours per week. The impetus for this policy is economic. More affordable and flexible childcare, the rationale goes, will enable more mothers to enter the workforce thus boosting productivity as well as improving government finances through a combination of higher tax revenues and lower benefit costs.

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Marie Lyons Centre for Welfare Reform  2019

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