Lack of affordable childcare is holding our economy back

For many years I have worked with, and championed, women across the Tees Valley and one of the big issues that regularly comes up is the need for good, affordable childcare.  The UK currently has the 7th most expensive childcare in the world with families spending on average 36% of income on childcare.  In comparison for many of our European neighbours the proportion is much lower with Sweden, Greece, Iceland and Austria all averaging less than 10%[1]    We simply don’t stack up and this barrier to entry to the workplace is holding women back economically and Covid along with the pressures brought by this government are making it worse.

Last week I had a conversation with Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years (Watch here)

We talked about the issues confronting women and looked particularly at childcare. She highlighted the potential devastating loss of 472 childcare providers across our region in the next year.  Whilst there are government schemes currently available they are incredibly restrictive and hard to access with only 40% of 2 year old children eligible and it is hard to argue with any conviction that it does more than pay lip service to the real problems and issues of working families.

In order to see how these issues were affecting women across the Tees Valley we ran a survey asking families their thoughts on childcare and how it was affecting their access to the workplace.  The results of that showed that 80% of respondents considered childcare to be expensive and how difficult it was to get access to the government schemes leading women to have to persevere with expensive alternatives.  This fits in with the results of a nationwide survey by which showed that 51% of women said that they did not have sufficient childcare to enable them to work at all, whilst a staggering 74% said that it had adversely affected their earning ability.

Of course all of the issues have been made significantly worse by the current Covid crisis with 65% of mothers that were furloughed saying that lack of childcare was the reason whilst 44% of self employed mothers said the crisis had cost them childcare places vital to the running of their businesses.

We must do better and I will do better.  Good access to affordable childcare is vital cog in our economy and one of the most important factors in allowing women to achieve economically.  The Labour Party is committed to offering universal childcare for children aged 2-4 and ensuring that there is a Sure Start centre in every community.  I am also keen to explore ways in which local companies can allow more flexible working to help with families childcare needs and solutions to help children with school age children to cope with pre and after school provision.

If we are to grow the economy in the Tees Valley, affordable childcare will be a part of that growth and we must empower women and families to be able to fulfil their fullest economic potential.

[1] OECD 2018