Despite the best intentions of politicians and civil servants,
the government’s child care strategy is making only slow
progress in getting young children out of poverty by helping their
parents into employment. The task at hand is to provide enough
child care that parents trust, that is cheap enough to make work
pay, and is convenient and flexible enough to mesh with
parents’ jobs. If the child care on offer is also to benefit
children’s development, it needs well-trained staff and
management. This is a hugely ambitious and expensive project,
especially as the work available to many of the most disadvantaged
parents is badly paid, with unsocial hours.
It’s also far from obvious that it is always in
babies’ best interests to be separated from their parents for
eight or more hours a day, and many mothers will not be persuaded
that they should take up full-time work while their children are
very young. Parents who are already in secure permanent jobs have
recently won the right to ask for flexible, family-friendly working
arrangements, but it’s unlikely that mothers who have been
out of the job market for years, with few qualifications, will be
able to negotiate child-friendly arrangements in jobs that pay
enough wages to lift their families out of poverty.
Of course thousands of parents have successfully made the
transition from benefits to work because they managed to find
suitable child care, and with the help of tax credits have made
work pay. But for many others, the obstacles are much greater.
Children whose parents cannot find the right combination of work
and child care to meet their and their children’s needs are
still, as a point of public policy, being kept in deep poverty by
inadequate benefit payments. They don’t deserve it.