Another day, another process whinge from me. I would really like to write that the Coalition proposals on childcare are a huge step forward in offering choice, quality and affordability to working parents – and be able to leave it at that.
Sadly however, we have already had the policy announced twice (at the launch of the Mid Term Review, and yesterday) and I think it’s going to have to be announced again because we still don’t actually know who it applies to, what it means, or where the money will come from.
Added to that, we had the spectacle of a government minister being patted on the head and criticised as ‘a little bit ahead of herself’ by a Prime Ministerial adviser (of the same party! So it’s not an intra-Coalition problem…), and of course the ongoing annoyance that at almost every mention, the focus was on the policy’s effect on mothers. In almost every discussion I’ve heard of the policy over the past few weeks, the current cost of childcare has been expressed as a proportion of the mother’s earnings.
Obviously it is true that for most families, it is indeed the mother who a) changes her working patterns as a result of having children and b) looks after childcare arrangements (and the rest). But this is where the bully pulpit of being in a position of national leadership comes in. The more we sustain the notion that children are ‘women’s business’, the more we perpetuate the inequalities and therefore the rationale for that to be so.
I have no idea what this proposal will actually end up becoming. The aims are – of course – sensible ones of getting a currently lost chunk of society back into contributing to the economy and to society, and making sure children are securely well cared-for. But it does slightly feel like this is going to be yet another complicated addition to the tax code, with yet more incentives for people to conform to outdated social norms, and yet more dividing lines between those to whom it will apply and those to whom it won’t.
The policy itself may well end up being entirely fine (though who knows, once the Quad has finished its wrangling). But the process of it is really not, and risks being, as with the 50p tax rate cut, and equal marriage, yet another area where no-one actually ends up happy.