Children Need a Guaranteed Start in Life

‘Childcare services are in crisis: parents are being forced a give up work and the benefits of children’s early years development are being wasted’. says Workers Party representative Ursula Meighan.

In a plain-speaking assessment of current childcare, child minding and early years education, Ursula said, ‘an immediate and comprehensive investment in childcare services is essential if the current crisis is to be addressed.’ 

‘The years from birth to the age of five or six are accepted as the most important years in a child’s early development. Yet, childcare remains a major issue, and a financial burden, for many parents and a serious obstacle to employment, particularly for women’ she explained.

Not getting the results

‘Parents in England Scotland and Wales can avail of 30 hours childcare, free of charge, each week in term time, but not so in Northern Ireland.

‘Other schemes which are available locally, including child tax credits, are just not producing the required results. Parents are being priced out of affording the childcare they need to allow them to work.

The long-overdue, and yet to be delivered, ‘Early Learning and Childcare Strategy’, has to be a day one priority for any restored Executive,’ Ursula said, ‘and must be accompanied by a programme of investment which supports parents to access the childcare they need and to providers to deliver it’.

Ursula went on to say that the current uncoordinated nature of childcare services significantly impacts on the development of many young people at an early age and that disadvantage can stay with them for life.

Guaranteed start in life

‘Working class families, and working-class children are particularly affected’ she said. ‘The right to a guaranteed start in life must be available to all. We must make that a legal entitlement.’

‘Only when children’s early education and development is served by a high quality, centrally planned, publicly funded, accessible and flexible childcare system can we say that we are investing in our future. 

‘Only then will parents have the security to remain in work, training or education. Only then can our society and our economy fully realise the benefits of a skilled and confident workforce, secure in the knowledge that future generations are being given the best start in life’ Ursula concluded. 

#childcare #earlyyears #chikdcarestrategy

The Crisis in Childcare

Childcare in Northern Ireland is in crisis. Costs here are the second highest in Europe, there are not enough places to cope with demand and one third of local parents say that childcare costs are their largest monthly outgoing, exceeding their rent or mortgage.

Parents are having to cut back on their hours, leave their jobs or make ad hoc and short-term arrangements.

And the response from the DUP/ Sinn Fein led Executive? Almost ten years after it first started to discuss a Childcare Strategy, unbelievably, it is still at the consultation stage.

‘Towards a Childcare Strategy’ was first drafted in 2012. The consultation period ended a year later in December 2013.

The Programme for Government (2011-2015) committed the Executive to publish and implement a childcare strategy with key actions to provide integrated and affordable childcare. That consultation ended in November 2015.

Then, the New Decade, New Approach agreement committed the Executive to publish the strategy and to “deliver extended, affordable and high-quality provision of early education and care initiatives for families with children aged 3-4”.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen now promises to finally deliver the strategy, but, depressingly, says that this will involve re-engaging with key stakeholders on the objectives and priorities, feasibility testing and a public consultation. Don’t hold your breath.

Socialist countries, like the German Democratic Republic, pioneered comprehensive childcare schemes as long ago as the 1940s and 50s. Other countries are now belatedly addressing their childcare responsibiities.

Parents in England and Scotland can access 30 hours of free childcare during term time.

In Finland every child under the age of seven has the right to childcare and pre-school by law,

Sweden spends more money on its pre-school budget than it does on its defence budget. Each child is guaranteed a place at a public pre-school.

Nurseries in France are free and children aged from three upwards can attend

Since 2013 every child over the age of one in Germany has a legal right to a place in a public childcare facility. 

The lack of available places and the cost of childcare remain major factors in discouraging women, in particular, from participating in the workforce. Many have no choice but to work reduced hours, enter casual employment or give up work altogether.

If women are to achieve equality in the workplace then child care must be a priority

In the absence of publicly run nurseries, the government’s go-to solution is to use tax-payers’ money as a subsidy to private nurseries through working tax credits, vouchers and a myriad of complex and complicated funding schemes riddled with caveats, exceptions and exclusion clauses. It doesn’t even kick the problem further down the road. The crisis remains and is getting worse.

Is it really such an earth-shattering demand to call for fully publicly funded, affordable, flexible nursery and childcare services?

If we are serious about gender equality, developing the economy, maximising the input of women and implementing a post covid revival plan then we must ensure that a flexible childcare network is available from birth and includes pre and after-school, and holiday care.

 If we are serious about a first-class childcare strategy then we must guarantee quality of care through ensuring that all those working in the childcare sector are fully qualified, have training and development opportunities, a career path and are paid a real living wage.

And while we are at it, why should we not consider childcare as the major investment in the future that it unquestionably is? Why should we not rank it alongside other major social policy initiatives and make it free at the point of delivery?

Too often, critics dismiss socialists and socialism as always wanting something for nothing. Of course, a free at the point of use childcare system would cost money and it should be paid for.

We could start with collecting the billions of pounds of unpaid taxes, raising corporation tax in recognition of the benefits employers will reap from future generations or we could stop waging wars around the world. The estimated £40 billion plus spent on the war in Afghanistan would be a good start and a much better use of public money.