Last September we blogged on two reports from Save the Children and IPPR on how what parents need and want from childcare. UNISON is a long term supporter of free publically delivered childcare as a route to transform Scotland.We are therefore delighted that the debate in Scotland has now moved on to “when” rather than “if” for free childcare.
UNISON represents workers who need childcare and workers who deliver the childcare. This largely female workforce faces all the same challenges as other working women in balancing their own caring responsibilities with work and the high costs of childcare. That is why UNISON believes that the promised expansion of childcare has to be publically funded and delivered. Free childcare cannot free some women through supporting them to work and develop their careers while condemning other to long hours on low pay working in childcare.
Delivery will require substantial funding. We know this will pay for itself through increased tax revenues and cuts in benefits spending. Childcare workers need flexible part-time working. Many choose this work because it fits in with their own caring responsibilities. There needs to be a substantial increase in staff numbers to cope with both the extra hours the current children will now attend for but also the extra children who take up the service. As many will want to work part-time the number of actual people will be higher than the FTE figure. We are therefore not convinced that the number of staff required to deliver expanded childcare is being properly calculated and costed.
Quality of childcare depends on the skills of those who work there. This will require training and ongoing professional development. Pay must reflect the skills and experience required to do the job. Cuts and centralisation in FE will impact on colleges’ ability to delivery this training. Meeting even the longer term aspirations requires investment and planning now.
The childcare workforce, particularly in the private sector, is not well paid. The skills required to deliver high quality childcare, as with much work traditionally done by women, are not widely recognised or rewarded in the market. There has been progress in the public sector and one of the key reasons for our support for ensuring that the public sector delivers childcare is to ensure that this is not pulled back by expanding the low paid private sector.
Gender segregation in the workforce and its impact on the gender pay gap is a key issue in Scotland and just as there needs to be support for girls in schools to consider a wider set of job options, boys should also be encouraged to consider childcare as a career.
Free publically delivered childcare can transform Scotland. With proper investment it offers the opportunity to take pressure off families by enabling more women to take up paid work and ensuring they have more of their pay to spend or save. This will also ensure that working mothers can continue to pay into pensions, preventing poverty in old age. More than that through creating high quality care and education and seamless transitions through to school it will give children the best possible start in life. This will bring savings to a range of public services in both the short and long term. There is a lot more to be won than cutting the benefits bill and increased income through taxation.