Jeremy Hunt needs childcare lessons from Liz Truss
The Chancellor's new plan for parents is too authoritarian
I awoke this morning with an unfamiliar feeling: a desperate, sickening yearning for the glorious few weeks of Liz Truss’s premiership. Before she was summarily removed, Truss had floated a plan to give parents money to spend on childcare as they wished. The policy was one of those rare instances when a libertarian brainwave actually promises to make people more free.
Now, however, the Tories are clamping down. According to the morning headlines, Jeremy Hunt’s Budget will guarantee thirty hours a week of free childcare for one- and two-year-olds, “part of a government drive to encourage more people back to work”, reports the BBC. Work, we learn, is the natural condition for human beings, like making honey is for bees. Family is an eccentric hobby, to be properly reined in.
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The move will be presented as a populist reform, to help parents struggling with their responsibilities. But the model Hunt is expected to offer, unlike the Truss proposal, is a one-size-fits-all model in which parents are expected to work full-time and entrust their children to registered providers. Is that, in fact, what the public wants? The British Social Attitudes Survey has found that only 6% of British people think the best childcare arrangement is for both mum and dad to work full-time.
Only a minority are attached to a 1950s male-breadwinner model; there are, of course, any number of ways — part-time work, flexible work, career breaks — in which both men and women can share responsibilities. What very few people really want is for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to shepherd the country’s toddlers en masse through the gates of the kindergarten. But that is where this is heading: with free childcare on the table, choosing to look after your own progeny makes you either rich or a mug.
The CBI, which successfully led the lobbying for this reform, has published a blackly funny press release on the subject which assumes that taking your little one to Wriggle and Rhyme at the public library is an unutterable burden, whereas stacking shelves or updating spreadsheets is a liberation of the human spirit. Literally “thousands” of people, they lament, “are prevented from taking on more hours of paid employment due to childcare issues.” As the CBI notes, employers have made extra efforts in recent years to accommodate parents. On the Hunt reforms, companies can relax: once the baby turns one, it’s not an employer’s responsibility to accommodate a worker’s needs.
Of course, as Hunt will argue, the present situation is unworkable. Rent is so high and pay is so low that parents can’t afford childcare, and can’t afford to work less and stay home. That is why a responsible government would be fretting night and day about how to return some reality to our fantasy-land housing market, and would be nerving itself for a contest with the interest groups who stand to lose from a higher-pay economy.
The Hunt solution, usefully, requires no confrontation with such difficult problems. It just requires increasing the size of the state, and separating boys and girls from their parents at just the point where they most desire each other’s company. Yes, for some people thirty hours’ free childcare a week is exactly what they want. But for most, it is a second- or third-best arrangement.
There are also fears about the quality of this universal childcare, too. The condition of Britain’s schools and care homes doesn’t inspire confidence; nor do the warnings of the childcare providers themselves. Their trade association, the Early Years Alliance, says the proposed method — reducing carer-to-child ratios — risks “severely compromising the safety and quality of care”.
Perhaps the most misleading narrative in British politics is that the market and the state are at loggerheads. In fact, they are in an unnervingly intimate relationship, and their occasional lovers’ tiffs are a distraction. This proves it. Under Hunt’s plan, the market will gain – £28.2bn a year is the CBI’s upper estimate — and the state will act as the guarantor and scoop up the extra tax revenue.
It’s always said that nobody, lying on their deathbed, regrets that they didn’t spend more hours at the office. But Jeremy Hunt is deeply worried on your behalf.
“The British Social Attitudes Survey has found that only 6% of British people think the best childcare arrangement is for both mum and dad to work full-time. “
What’s the betting that the 6% are childless!
There is already too much separation within families and society is already suffering for it.
Schools and nurseries cannot provide the care, attention and boundaries that children need, especially during the early years. Full time working parents are guilt ridden and this guilt impacts the decisions they take as parents. Children need more parent time, not less! It doesn’t work and doubling down on a bad decision won’t change the outcome!
There is no need to be ungenerous. I know some of those precise sort of people, professional types. They exist but are a small minority as the article made clear.
The politicians in charge of childcare (a chilling expression) really need to go away and crawl under a rock. You can get a job updating spreadsheets or stacking shelves any time in your life. But the kids are only young once, it’s precious time you won’t get back.
And thus our demographics present us a choice – both parents work or it’s more immigration. Maybe it’s both?
Or build more houses, driving down housing costs thus making two-income families less necessary (if people want to be two-income families, that’s fine)
Yes agree with that.
However hidden away in the Budget was also an assumption immigration climbs from predicted 1.3m to 1.6m by 2027. There’s where Hunt is getting most of his anemic growth. The assumptions on childcare prompted returnees much less.
It isn’t really necessary to build more houses. There’s more housing relative to population now than there was forty years ago. The real issue is that people like us occupy too much of it. It’s a question of incentives.
Clearly increasing immigration not only causes social strife (see Sweden or everywhere else suffering significant cross cultural immigration) but also increased demand for houses so living costs go up enormously. That increases the pressure on household income, forcing more parents to work, increasing demand for childcare which is provided by about the lowest paid workers (for about the most important activity!) and further increasing taxation and the intrusion of the state.
Nothing positive, let alone Conservative, about it. Our Government is clearly out to destroy our country and is part of a uniparty global elite with almost all ‘opposition’ being controlled.
An interesting and valid perspective on the provision of state funded childcare services.
It led me to consider that the finance for this service should be raised through an increase in employers’ national insurance.
At last. I can agree with every word. And good to see Truss’s ideas mentioned. A few journos tentatively mentioned her enterprise zone ideas, but hastily added that in the Hunt version they had been completely eviscerated.
What a perfectly ghasly little man.. stereotype ” Charterheouse”….
As ever – it comes back to the cost of accommodation. Sooner or later the political class are going to have to grasp the nettle and reform the housing market so that young families can develop. Don’t hold your breath though: we all saw the reaction to Theresa May’s timid suggestion that a fraction of the unearned trillions in property wealth might be used to pay for social care.
Truss! In what galaxy are you residing?
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