NEW LABOUR'S childcare policies are failing and provide nothing for the vast majority of children and parents. That's the message from a Daycare Trust survey published last week. The Daycare Trust, a national childcare charity, has recently been very enthusiastic about many of the government's policies. So its report is particularly damning.
It finds, 'For most families childcare is still too expensive. Access to childcare is largely determined by income level. 'Parents in the low pay/no pay cycle continue to be denied the benefits that quality childcare provision can bring on the grounds that they cannot pay. 'Around three million children live in families where there is no working adult, yet less than 20,000 are in receipt of childcare paid for by their local authority.'
Childcare is hideously expensive. The report says a typical full time nursery place for a two year old now costs over £110 a week-more than £5,700 a year. If you have two children in Hackney, east London, you will now pay £860 a month (£10,320 a year) for a (government subsidised) four year old and a one year old to go to a council nursery. This means paying £5.39 for childcare every hour you work.
The much-trumpeted Childcare Tax Credit does cover some of the costs for some people. But the credit is available only to people who work more than 16 hours a week (a couple have to work more than 16 hours each). In addition, however poor you are, the tax credit will not cover more than 70 percent of the childcare costs.
Not a penny of this tax credit is available to any couple whose joint income is more than £423 a week (for one child) or £576 a week (two children). A couple who are a bus driver and a hospital secretary will, for example, get nothing. The government claims that it provides a free nursery place for every four year old and (from September 2004) for every three year old. This 'free place' is for just two and a half hours a day.
For many parents life is a grim struggle to earn enough to pay for childcare so that you can go out to work. But cost is not the only barrier. There is simply not enough childcare available.
The government has announced initiatives designed to give the impression of a huge expansion of pre-school education. But only 19,600 extra places were created last year. Many of these were part time. This leaves around four million children needing places. The government promises that the number of children's centres (with nurseries, after-school clubs and family centres on one site) will rise from the present 29 to 100 by 2004.
The Daycare Trust says 10,000 such centres are needed! Some extra money for nurseries has been promised for the next three years. The New Opportunities Fund and the Neighbourhood Childcare Initiative are now the main sources of start-up funds for childcare.
Any money from these funds is based on the idea that virtually all childcare in these projects should be paid for by parental contributions within one to three years. This is totally different to a system of subsidised childcare which has space for the children of people on benefits and low incomes, students, disabled people, and so on.
The result is a spiral of cuts and privatisation. Councils in many parts of Britain are closing nurseries. They justify this by saying that new places will be created under the government's schemes.
But these new places will be unsubsidised (except through tax credits) and overwhelmingly in the private sector. Many of the poor will be ejected when the government money runs out (in a maximum of three years).
None of this matters to the government, which will count the new private nurseries as places it has created. Nord Anglia Education, Britain's leading private education company, has just sold off a string of its other businesses so it can concentrate on running schools and nurseries
The company has grabbed Bright Horizons, which operates ten nurseries in the south and west of England. These will be added to the ten nurseries Nord Anglia runs under the Princess Christian brand name and the 12 it has attached to private schools it owns. Private health firm BUPA (operating as 'Teddies') has 18 nurseries in the south of England and plans more.
New Labour's 'childcare revolution' is as empty as the rest of its promises.