Monday, 5 August 2013

Thoughts on the New Childcare Voucher Scheme

Over the past few days I've read increasing amounts about the governments new childcare voucher scheme, which in its most basic incarnation supports parents who both go to work and means that a family with one stay at home parent will not receive anything. Now, I realise that efficiency savings need to be made, however, I thought that the new child benefit system was more efficient and made savings.

Enjoying the benefits of a stay at home mum
I have lots of problems with this new scheme and I should say I do not have a vested interest in it because ironically, although I consider myself a stay at home mum, I'm actually self employed as a childminder and freelance writer. This essentially means I could pay someone else using childcare vouchers to look after my own children whilst I look after someone else's in my own home. Crazy eh!

The thing which really galls me about this new approach is the fact that its another message that stay at home mothers are not worthwhile contributors to society. That its better to go out to work for as many hours as you possibly can and let 'professionals' bring them up rather than spend time nurturing your children in those important developmental years. It's better to be stressed and tired, up all night with the baby and then working (I'd argue often as a women demonstratively harder than male peers) all day. That's not to say I think its better to stay at home, for many women, myself included at times its actually better to go to work for their own sanity and sense of self esteem and to have a break from the children. However, some women it's not, they had children for a reason and wish to bring them up themselves.

I think the trouble with this scheme is that yet again it's focused on the principles and ideals of the upper middle classes and its clearly considered from their ethos. I remain unconvinced that it does anything for the typical working/ lower middle class family. Yes, of course its better to stack shelves in Tesco than take your child to playgroup or the library yourself. See where I am coming from?

There is also the argument that certain children benefit in some sort of professional childcare, at least for a short period of time. That's why the scheme to allow early access to childcare for some families was introduced and why the government is very keen for you to send your child to nursery and school way before certain other European countries. How does this voucher scheme fit in with that ideal?

In my job as a childminder I accept childcare vouchers, however I can honestly say that from all the enquiries I have received in the affluent corner of the world I live in it hasn't been a factor for parents in deciding whether to go to work or not. Quite simply, they are a drop in the ocean given the costs of childcare which here are £6 per hour per child. The reasons for going back to work are usually that parents want to retain their job and sense of self, these are generally parents who are university educated with large mortgages. In short, for those parents who can afford it and who want to put their children in childcare because of its benefits (and possibly because they don't want to talk to them themselves) it wont make a jot of difference because they will put them in childcare regardless of cost.

I think that a much fairer and possibly more cost effective scheme would have been to look at household income and then subsidise based on that. That would mean that mothers working in lower paid but valuable creative jobs would be able to do them, that parents who wish to simply work for their own self- esteem can feasibly do so. However, perhaps more importantly that those children whose parents are at home but don't look after them as well as perhaps they should could actually access childcare. For me, that is the crux of the argument. This country needs to think more about its future, about enabling children to blossom and not about putting barriers up and them blaming social workers when it all goes wrong.

In recent years there has been a great deal of emphasis on Safeguarding following various high profile cases of child neglect and abuse. However, child benefits have been cut and this is another kick in the teeth for families. Lets not forget, it's not all that easy to actually get a job in this economic climate. What happens here to children in families where one parent is forced to stay at home through unemployment but is quite despondent and unhappy about that? I presume the children are forced out of childcare and have to sit watching Jeremy Kyle as well? I'm also still reeling about the cost of accessing higher education. Overall, there are large numbers of children in this country who no-longer have a hopeful future. This may well prove to be another kick in the teeth as they wont be able to access professional childcare (meaning they get read a book once a day etc).

The years following the Second World War are proving to be  the best the country has ever had in terms of state benefits and social justice. Where did it all go so wrong and how did the electorate allow this to happen?

2 comments:

Katie said...

This is the most intelligent argument I have read about the issue so far.

Too many people are getting it confused with the stay at home/working mum argument. We need to just accept that all families are different and will make different choices, not just based on cost, and this choice isn't necessarily equal to a family's contribution to society.

Kate Conway said...

I'm convinced it's all about the tax. If you stay at home taking care of the kids the government gets nothing, go back to work and the government taxes both you and the person providing your childcare. It's a double win as far as they are concerned.

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