Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Childcare: Time to Deliver

Another report on childcare shows that the high costs and complexities of the current system need to be tackled urgently if we are to give our children the best start in life. The Family and Childcare Trust 2014 Scottish Childcare report found that less than a quarter of local authorities in Scotland have enough childcare for working parents (the equivalent figure for England is 54%). Costs for that care continue to rise: 4.8% last year. The cost for part-time care for two children is now 22% higher than the average mortgage bill. Charges vary considerably across Scotland: in some areas the difference is as much as £3000.

The Family and Childcare Trust highlight how complex the delivery and funding of childcare is for parents and for providers. There are direct funding streams for what is officially early years education: your free hours for three and four year-olds, the childcare elements of Working Tax Credit, voucher based schemes through employers and then various small schemes through Job Centre Plus or other funding streams through anti-poverty initiatives which fund nurseries and crèches and breakfast clubs for example. Local authorities also provided free or subsidised accommodation to social enterprises offering childcare and while not officially childcare there are a range of sports and social clubs in schools which are in effect after school care.

The shortage of spaces for children is pushing up costs. Costs that mean many women just can’t afford to keep or find jobs: and yes it is still women who largely look after children both paid and unpaid. Getting childcare right offers a real opportunity to reduce gender inequality by reducing the financial penalties for motherhood. Ensuring that childcare workers are properly paid and have a career path will also reduce the gender pay gap.

Local authorities are best placed to address the challenges of childcare. Delivery by local authorities will help simplify and reduce the artificial barriers round the many agencies and complex funding streams currently in place. The artificial eradication/childcare split needs to go. Local authority provision is also the most cost effective route as currently nursery provision in the public sector is 11% cheaper than the private and not-for-profit sectors despite the higher wages and more qualified workforce. They need the funding to expand to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

The debate needs to move on from “hours” to organising the delivery of a proper service to support the development of our children and ensure that work pays for all those involved.

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