I woke up this morning to see all sorts of comment on Twitter about an email from Nick Clegg received by Party supporters.
I hurriedly checked my inbox – and there was nothing. I wondered fleetingly and not terribly seriously if I’d been removed from the distribution list cos I’d been so critical of emails from HQ in the past. However, after an hour or so, it appeared. And it was worth waiting for.
Nick, as a parent of 3 young children, knows only too well how families can struggle with childcare. For a start, it’s seen as something women sort out, because while mothers get up to a year’s maternity leave, their partners get only 2 weeks. Some people have said on Twitter that they are disappointed that the email predominantly talks about mothers – but I feel that that reflects how the current system works. He explains how that disadvantages women in the workplace and he talks about how women want to go back to work but can’t because the cost of childcare doesn’t make it worth their while, especially if they have more than one child.
I think he’s summed up the issues pretty much perfectly and I’m delighted that it’s a Liberal Democrat bloke at the highest level of Government that’s taking this on and trying to sort it out. His email shows he understands the realities of life for many families, what the Lib Dems have provided in the Coalition and how there’s more to do.
Anyway, I’ll let you see for yourselves.
I want to start writing to you, as a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, regularly and more informally than I have in the past. I want to give you a bit more of an insight into what’s going on behind those Whitehall doors and how we, as Lib Dems, are dealing with the issues and challenges that come up.
An issue that gets raised again and again when I speak to people across the country is the question of good childcare – and how important it is not just to families but to our economy too. When you’ve got young kids, getting the right childcare matters enormously. Even if it’s just a babysitter for a few hours, you need to know you’re leaving your children with someone you trust and can rely on. But when it comes to finding a nursery, a childminder or a nanny, it can be a real nightmare.
For too many parents that’s first and foremost because of cost. I know so many mothers who’ve been really keen to get back to work after their year of maternity leave – until they’ve calculated the cost of a place at nursery. Add in the cost of travel to work and mums can find themselves effectively working full time for just a couple of pounds a week. It’s absurd.
In government we have already made important steps – introducing 15 hours free childcare for all three and four year olds. And from next year we are extending this to the poorest two year olds. Real achievements we can proud of. But only this week a report by the Resolution Foundation said that living standards will only rise for people on low and middle incomes if we support women to work. And recent research showed that two thirds of women with children under five say they’d work, or work more hours, if we got them more help with childcare. That shows how much more there is still to do.
Even mothers who do go back to work after their first child can find it impossible when it comes to the second child. Too often they just can’t make the sums add up, and even though they’d love to be out earning they find years go by before it makes financial sense. So by the time they can afford to go back to work, it’s a struggle to find a job and convince an employer they’ve still got what it takes.
Some families may decide that they want to share childcare between them, or one parent may stay at home to focus on bringing their children up. But no-one should be forced into that decision – it’s about giving parents choices.
Of course there’s no silver bullet. Everyone knows there isn’t much money to go around. And looking after small children is a difficult job which should be done by skilled people who know what they’re doing. Childcare isn’t something you can buy at bargain basement prices.
But I’m determined to make sure we do more, and do it better. I’ve got a simple objective in mind: I want every parent who wants to work to be able to – without seeing every penny of their wages disappear in childcare bills. And if we can find the money, we’ll try to make that possible. Through hugely increasing the tax threshold and introducing the pupil premium we have already ensured a powerful legacy for families from our contribution in government in this parliament. I would very much like to add improving childcare to that list too.
Thanks for reading. If there’s anything you particularly want me to update you on, please reply to this email.