Home > Business, Childcare, Education, Ethics, National Politics, Principles, Uncategorized > Free Childcare and The CBI: Big business itself has a lot more of a role to play than just identifying a need, just as Government does through the development of not-for-profit provision and Social Enterprise…

Free Childcare and The CBI: Big business itself has a lot more of a role to play than just identifying a need, just as Government does through the development of not-for-profit provision and Social Enterprise…

The CBI has today said that Government must create more free childcare, and on the face of it they are certainly right.

But is it only the Government’s responsibility to provide the support mechanisms which enable parents to work when business will be one of the biggest beneficiaries too?

Childcare costs play a much bigger role in the earning potential, wellbeing and general happiness of families with very young children and low incomes than really ever seems to be fully acknowledged. Yet this, and the reality that the period of support and nurture before school for all children is just as important as the years between the ages of 4 and 18 seems to be treated as anything but.

Schemes such as nursery vouchers help, but are in many ways arguably little more than a gimmick for politicians, or a fire-and-forget incentive for some employers. The privately owned monopoly of early years care which currently provides this support to parents is after all significantly profit based, whilst providing services that like schools, are actually required for the benefit of the wider community as a whole.

Like it or not, the days have now long since passed when the average nuclear family could be maintained on one wage alone. The option for one parent to stay at home during the formative years of their young children is a luxury that for many is simply financially impossible. Yet the lack of genuinely affordable quality childcare provision can soon remove any real choice and the likelihood of both or of a single parent prioritising work when there is a real cost in quality of life to the child or children concerned, without any benefit elsewhere – is hardly any choice at all.

From this perspective, what the CBI is saying may well be fundamentally right, and when Government has long since provided free education as the basic right – and indeed requirement for every child, it does seem rather odd that the system so squarely favours the use of private care in the pre-school years.

However, there is a very large ‘but’ to all this.

Whilst business representatives may be correct in identifying a key barrier to entry for people seeking a return to the workplace, is it not very questionable to place the emphasis of responsibility squarely at the door of Government when it is not only the employees, but the businesses themselves which in many cases will ultimately benefit too?

Making the choice easy for parents to return to the workplace after the birth of a child should be a priority for any Government that considers its responsibilities to the people it represents in a wholly balanced and fair way. However, most problems like this have in the past been solved by writing a cheque, and the days when politicians could just solve problems by throwing money at them have long since gone.

To the CBI, the suggested cost of £300 Million might not sound like a great deal. But when you consider that this figure would equate to nearly £700K off the budget of every single principle Local Authority in the UK – and then give thought to what that would then mean in the terms of cuts to services that such a figure would in a shifting of priorities bring, you can quickly see how a sum of this kind could hardly come without any significant strings, wherever the money comes from.

Somebody somewhere is always losing out. Government doesn’t have the money to provide the services that it already does, and whilst borrowing sounds like a very attractive idea to politicians who are buried in the complexities of what will probably have been one of the longest General Election campaigns in history, it is the result of this approach time and again before, that sees the current UK debt at beyond £1 Trillion and accumulating at a rate of over £5K per second.

We do need either local authorities and social enterprise to provide a quality alternative to privately owned and operated nurseries. Especially so for parents working for small businesses or who are self employed themselves.

Like an increasing number of different areas within local government which are moving towards entrepreneurial projects in order to maintain existing services and potentially attract funds to support others, Education Authorities could, and arguably should be developing services such as day nurseries and crèche’s which charge fees, but keep the fee levels real and in keeping with what is affordable for those parents working in low paid jobs.

But for others, who experience these difficulties just the same, but work for much larger, perhaps corporate level companies, their employers have a role to play too. Bigger companies could arguably provide these services at a much lower cost than a third party organisation or independent not-for-profit organisation could ever do so, whilst providing on-site services that for many of the employees concerned could take their work experience into an entirely different league.

Yes, some employers do already offer such services on-site. But the benefits of offering on site nurseries and crèches within all businesses where it would be possible to do so could be untold; run completely at cost, and also potentially opened up to support other parents from the communities which surround large employment sites – where outreach could almost certainly always be improved.

Looking to others for the answer has regrettably become an all too familiar approach within a culture that inherently considers little more than profit, risk and the potential for blame.

So when it comes to the benefit that will no doubt come from the profitability of getting so many more of these parents back into work, the employers themselves should also have to pick up and carry more of the risks involved in providing the solutions that will make it attractive for parents to be happy to do so.

Government can and should do a whole lot more to support business growth and therefore increase the number of jobs available and the earning ability of the people within them. But business leaders also need to accept that they have a role to play in helping to support the lives of those they employ beyond work, and also recognise that there might be very positive results accepting that the two are not always mutually exclusive.

image: The Guardian


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