Thursday, November 01, 2012

Scottish Liberal Democrats call for high quality, affordable childcare

At Conference in Dunfermline on Saturday, the Scottish Liberal Democrats debated the issue of childcare in the wake of a report from Save the Children which highlighted the severe difficulties parents on low incomes faced trying to pay for childcare. Some have been forced to leave their jobs because they simply can't afford it. The idea that people can't afford food and clothes because they have nursery fees to pay is pretty awful.

I sadly missed the debate, but I was slightly mad that only one man, our Education Spokesman Liam McArthur, had spoken in it. Childcare is not a women's issue. It's in everyone's interest that children are looked after properly and raised well to contribute to society and look after us when we get old.

The motion, which was passed overwhelmingly, said:

In order to deliver accessible, high quality, affordable childcare for all Scottish families,
and meet the commitments of its Early Years Framework, conference calls on the
Scottish Government to:

  • Ÿ provide local authorities with adequate resources to deliver its planned
  • increase in funded hours.
  • Ÿ ensure that sufficient childcare is available across the country, particularly for:
  • working parents requiring wrap around care, parents working outside normal
  • hours, older children, families in rural areas and disabled children.
  • Ÿ update guidance to local authorities on accessing childcare supply and
  • demand locally.

Emma Sykes, on her debut speech at Conference, talked about the importance of having fully qualified teachers providing nursery education:

Unqualified teaching support can add a lot to the classroom, HOWEVER, at this critical stage of a child’s development qualified teachers are essential.
As Liberal Democrats we must defend local authority rights to decide who teachers in their classrooms, HOWEVER we must criticise the likes of Glasgow City Council who have sort to remove qualified nursery teachers from early education.
Conference i urge to support this motion but let’s hold our councils to account, when we talk about HIGH QUALITY early education that is EXACTLY what we mean.
Sophie Bridger looked at the benefits to the whole of society of providing subsidised childcare and,although she recognised the economic realities we face, said that in the future we should be looking to extend childcare for 2 year olds way beyond the 40% target in the motion.
 Children getting a better start, parents free to work, families keeping more money.  Even before you look at the broader economic impact, and the effect on the gender pay gap, extending free childcare and preschool education would have enormous benefit for families, and for children.
These aren’t actually arguments for extending free childcare to the 40% most deprived under- twos. They’re arguments for subsidising everyone’s childcare. If we were having this debate ten years ago, or ten years in the future, I hope we would be aiming a little higher, and asking for subsidised childcare to be extended to every child. State funded preschool education is a hallmark of the progressive Nordic countries that we should aspire to emulate. The results are increased social mobility, more mothers in full time work, and some of the happiest children in the world. 
Jo Swinson, in summating, talked about what the UK coalition is doing in terms of flexible leave, in terms of providing childcare to 40% of two year olds, both  championed personally by Nick Clegg. The SNP Government in Scotland looks pretty weak in comparison, with only 1% of 2 year olds having access to free nursery places. Willie Rennie looked at this in his leader's speech later in the day.

I want to see 2 year olds from the poorest backgrounds get the early education they need, to give them the best start in life. The Nobel laureate Professor James Heckman has worked out that the highest rate of return in education is from investment before the age of three. One pound then saves £11 later. The reason that number is so astonishing is studies have shown that a child’s development at 22 months accurately predicts their development at 26 years. That is why it’s so disappointing that the Scottish Government has plans for just 1 per cent of 2-year-olds to get free childcare and education.
If we can get that up it will have an impact on long term participation in the economy.  Our Scottish growth and prosperity needs 100% of people contributing to our economy and our community. Education unlocks that door for the people who get left behind. So, one per cent should not be the end of the story. In England they are extending childcare to 40% of 2-year-olds. We’ve shown the Scottish Government where they can find the money.  Next year’s priority is to bring in free childcare for those 2-year-olds. Scotland is falling behind the rest of the United Kingdom. I want to discuss with the Scottish Government how far and how fast we can go next year. I say that those children deserve a chance in Scotland. 
Passing the motion was the easy bit. Now it's time for Willie to get the Government to make some provision in the Government for childcare. They have an overall majority, so they don't need to listen to us, but parents across Scotland will not forgive the Government if they don't do something to alleviate the pressure on them.

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