Fixing childcare is key to unlocking Britain’s labour market
Work is changing – it’s more likely to be done from home, need new skills and be affected by artificial intelligence (AI). The rights that today’s workers need are new too, but what’s the single thing that holds millions back – and in particular women? In a word: childcare.
Throughout the course of the review into The Future of Work that the previous prime minister asked me to carry out, it was care that stood out time and time again as the crucial factor that stops people from being able to fulfil their ambitions.
Today’s workers are more stressed than ever, demanding the right to switch off from apparently overbearing bosses and looking at other countries where that is enshrined in law. The juggle of home and work, of money and time, feels perpetually to be on the brink of being overwhelming. As living costs rise, for too many childcare is more costly than work pays. Just when we need people most, they can’t afford to be employed. Just as the birth rate is plummeting, having children and owning a home is less affordable than ever.
For too many, childcare is more costly than work pays
Some say that flexible work, and a legal right to it, will be almost a panacea. They’re wrong. Businesses and workers know now more than ever that it is a part of the solution and a deal-breaker for many workers, but it’s no substitute for getting your head down without the worry of looking after toddlers or ageing relatives.
Other countries have to some extent cracked the childcare problem, all in different ways: higher ratios of children to better trained staff; lower, subsidised costs; or simply the social ties that mean there’s more of a village to raise a child. Britain can have none of these overnight – and the social ties won’t return until housing is so abundant we can all live near enough to relatives if we choose to.
So, put simply, it’s childcare where government will get massive bang for the electoral, political buck. We need to show working families we get it – that we get how hard it is to get to work after dropping off at breakfast club and then racing back for wraparound care. We need to put public money on the public’s side. On training, on enticing new recruits and on facilities.
Britain is at a crossroads – a government that shows it knows every child matters must show that the wellbeing of every parent matters too.
Matt Warman, Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness
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