Stephen Twigg on the government's childcare shake-up
Earlier this week the government announced changes to the way childcare is managed and regulated, including increases in the number of children that can be cared for by each adult. Liz Truss MP, the minister with responsibility for childcare, wrote a guest blog on the thinking behind the changes - and childcare expert Penelope Leach also had her say.
Here Stephen Twigg, Chair of Labour's Childcare Commission, explains why his party won't be supporting them.
After weeks of speculation and briefing about the Government's childcare plans, with promises of tax breaks and childcare vouchers, yesterday's much heralded announcement must have been hugely disappointing to families and those who work with children.
This April and next, families who have two children are going to be hit with a Toddler Tax of up to £1,700 as the Government's cuts to tax credits, child benefit, maternity pay and the Health in Pregnancy Grant come into force.
There is no new support for families, but there is a plan to cut the safeguards that protect children in the early years.
The new Children's Minister, Liz Truss, wants to increase the number of children that nursery staff can look after – from four 2 year olds to six. This is despite evidence – in a report commissioned by the Department for Education which they have still not published – showing that this shift in ratios would undermine quality and would not reduce costs.
Eva Lloyd of the University of East London who has advised Liz Truss on childcare, said: "The ratio relaxation is unlikely to reduce childcare costs, but may well drive down childcare quality."
Parents are right to be worried. When surveyed, only 5% of Mumsnetters were in favour of reduced childcare ratios - even if it meant costs would be cut. (Take a look at the survey here).
Liz Truss says she wants to copy France, where nursery staff can look after up to 26 children if they are over three.
An expert academic paper looked at nurseries where the ratio was similar to France.1 It found that child development was impinged: "a 15 month old [was unable] to get any individual attention from anyone during his nursery day."
A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that France is rated worse than the UK on every measure: affordability, quality and the availability of childcare. According to the London Early Years Foundation, French childcare staff are overstretched – they have the highest sickness levels in Europe. And according to the OECD, France spends more than UK as proportion of GDP on childcare and female employment is lower than in the UK.
The Government is undermining the quality of care, and could put child safety at risk. Labour put in a series of FOI requests to local authorities and found that the Government has slashed the budget available for childcare training by 40 per cent. Hardly the way to improve qualifications or quality.
As Neil Leitch from the Pre-School Learning Alliance, the biggest early years' provider in the UK put it, "This is a recipe for disaster… when it comes to listening and acting on recommendations that go against its agenda, the Government chooses to ignore the expertise of thousands of childcare practitioners and parents".
The Government thinks it knows best. That's why it is decimating one of Labour's most successful childcare programmes: Sure Start. Before the election, David Cameron said he would "back Sure Start". But figures released yesterday, showed that there are 401 fewer Sure Start children's centres in England than there were in May 2010. And over half of the centres that are left provide no onsite childcare.
I want to look at what works. That's why Labour's Childcare Commission is looking to best practice from Scandinavia, where childcare is high quality and affordable for working parents.
This would be good for the economy too – far more women are in work in Nordic countries. I know parents want to see their childcare bills come down. But the answer is not to slash quality.
- Find out more about the government's proposed changes
- Tell us what you think on the Talk thread
- See the results of our childcare costs survey
- Get advice and info on our childcare pages