Around 62% of parents of school-age children say that they need some form of before-and-after school or holiday care in order to be able to juggle work and family life. Of these, nearly three in ten were unable to find it. These facts alone make clear that families need a far better childcare offer than exists at the moment.
I have written on numerous occasions before about the struggle which I know working parents in Lincoln face to make their working day fit with having a child or children at primary school. It’s a real challenge — so much so that many women find that it just doesn’t make financial or practical sense for them to return to work even if they want to.
Access to quality childcare isn’t just a cost of living issue then (and we know the costs, particularly in the East Midlands, are sky-rocketing), it’s also an equality issue. If we want to give women an equal chance to fulfil their potential in the workplace, we need to ensure the provision of good and affordable childcare.
For all these reasons, I’m proud that Labour are proposing to guarantee “wraparound” childcare, meaning before and after school, for parents of primary school children.
Labour introduced the concept of extended school programmes and, by 2010, 99% of schools were providing access to before and after school childcare. Schools ran breakfast clubs, so children could be at school from 8am, and after school clubs so parents could pick up their children at the end of the working day, instead of in the middle of the afternoon.
I used to be a school governor and I saw how valuable these clubs were to working parents. Of course, the clubs benefited children too – not least because it is a brilliant way of ensuring they eat breakfast before the beginning of a day’s learning.
It is noteworthy that over the past couple of years, various studies have shown an appalling rise in the number of children turning up for school hungry, which impacts upon their ability to learn and their concentration, on other children and on their health.
It was a huge source of regret for me that the Tories abandoned the extended schools programme, effectively ending the guarantee of a core offer of 8am – 6pm activities for school-age children.
Today, while in many areas extended schools have survived, there are fewer after-school clubs: last year 37% of authorities reported a cut in the number of after-school clubs and 44% reported that breakfast clubs had closed in their area.
As part of our commitment to helping working parents, Labour will set down in law a Primary Children Guarantee that they can access “wraparound” (8am – 6pm) childcare through their local school if they want it. This is about giving parents the certainty that comes from a guarantee of childcare and parents will have the power to hold schools and local authorities to account for its delivery.
Schools and local areas will have the discretion over how best to organise the guarantee locally, dependent on the school facilities which are available. Primary schools would be encouraged to develop partnerships to deliver childcare and a range of before-and-after-school activities.
The availability of good and affordable childcare is absolutely central to making our economy work for working people. It’s unacceptable and unfair to view the current struggle which parents face as a reality of having school-age children – it just doesn’t need to be this difficult.
A modern, sensible and in-touch government ought to be addressing this problem and, in outlining these wraparound childcare plans, Labour have proved we would be just that.