Angela Burns describes a new initiative, launched today, to garner views on childcare policy
At the Welsh Conservative conference in April earlier this year, we announced the establishment of a Childcare Commission that would seek to find a solution to the childcare challenges facing many parents across Wales. As the Shadow Minister for Education it is my role to lead on this important issue.
The first step I took was to review the existing policies of both the UK and Welsh Governments, and to identify leaders in the field of education and childcare to participate in the Commission itself. This evening sees the first of a series of public events on the issue at Llanfair Primary School in Cowbridge. (Monday 2 December, 6-7.30pm)
This public meeting will be followed by three other events across Wales, ensuring that people in every corner of Wales will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. We are keen to get the feedback and opinions of people from all walks of life, expert and lay, to inform our strategy for childcare going into the next Assembly term.
The UK Government is working to provide a scheme which funds 15 hours per week of childcare for the 130,000 most disadvantaged two-year-olds, and 92,000 are already benefiting, an increase of 20,000 since 2010. The UK Government’s aim is to double the number of places, to 260,000, by September 2014. However, this will only affect families in England – though in Wales a lot of parents who need childcare receive tax credits provided by the UK Government.
The Welsh Government’s policy has been very much focused on expanding the number of children who are eligible to a place on their Flying Start Programme – a programme which focuses on children from deprived backgrounds. This is a laudable aim . However, our research has highlighted stories of childcare only being made available during the middle of the day for some parents. If care is only available between 10am and 2pm, for example, it is exceptionally difficult to take full time employment.
Childcare must be flexible enough to cater for the needs of parents with a variety of different needs and circumstances. Often working parents will job share, working morning or afternoon shifts.
Private nurseries are usually happy to take children from this scheme, but for those families who are only being offered childcare between ten and two, this poses problems for both the parent and the nursery: The parent is restricted to supported childcare for only part of the day, while the nursery receives only half a day in fees, and cannot offer the remaining hours to another child.
Even if we forget the financial impact this has on the childcare provider, what it really means is that one child is stopped from enjoying play with their peers and possibly one or even two parents are stopped from seeking full time work.
We want to see as many parents and education professionals as possible to contribute a diverse range of views at our public meetings. Childcare can affect families in many different ways and we want to identify solutions, and recognise that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ system isn’t going to meet their needs. We need a flexible and supportive framework.
At the Childcare Commission’s first event this evening, we will be looking at Germany as a case study. We will also look at other case studies at other events, However, we chose Germany to start with because of its particularly high standard of state provision – and the controversy which is currently surrounding its new system.
As of August 2013, every child in Germany between the age of one and three is guaranteed a spot in ‘day care’. However, if parents do not wish to place their child in care, they will receive €100 a month, with this figure rising to €150 in 2014.
Some critics have claimed that this measure is discouraging parents from getting back into work after giving birth, and potentially harming the economy. On the other hand, many people counter that the German system now guarantees much needed support for families struggling to manage the burden of childcare costs.
We will be debating these issues and many more throughout the series of public events and we would welcome your input every step of the way.