My speech at the Daycare Trust Conference: QEII Centre, London – 13 June 2007
- I’m delighted to be here to speak to you today and to help you celebrate the Daycare Trust National Childcare Week. I know that the week got off to a wonderful start on Monday, with the presentation of prizes to the winners of the children’s competition – and I’d like to congratulate all the winners, and everyone who took part. I look forward to seeing the winning cards, posters and articles.
- I know too that there are also dozens of local events taking place across the country. I believe the existence of this national week demonstrates beyond doubt that childcare is today truly a national priority. As I know myself, on a daily basis, childcare is a crucial issue for parents and for children – and it’s now getting the political attention it deserves across all parties.
- But that wasn’t the case when the Daycare Trust was formed back in 1986. One of the achievements the Trust can look back on proudly as it passes its 21st birthday is raising the profile of childcare as an issue.
- And we should also recognise the many other organisations – like the Maternity Alliance, the TUC and 4Children – and the many campaigners from the voluntary sector, local Government and the media – like Marian Kozak, Rita Stringfellow, Polly Toynbee, who you’ve heard from today, and Tess Woodcraft – who have worked so hard to push childcare to the top of the agenda.
- Today’s conference is an important way of making sure that it stays there. And I’m delighted that Working Links are supporting it, in partnership with the Daycare Trust. We’ve just heard about Working Links’ role from Keith Faulkner, and I’m pleased to see the connection being made between the availability of childcare, and helping people back into work; and in turn between employment and lifting children out of poverty.
- From the outset in 1997, this government has recognised the importance of developing a national childcare strategy: the importance of parents having a choice of quality and affordable childcare, and of every child having the best possible start in life. So within a year of coming to office, we set out our vision for Sure Start centres, introduced a right to free nursery education and started to expand provision. And in December 2004, we published a groundbreaking, comprehensive and evidence-based ten-year strategy for childcare – and again I’d like to thank the Daycare Trust for your formative contribution to its development.
- The following month, in January 2005, I was privileged to be invited to give the second Daycare Trust Annual Lecture and to set out the vision that I believed underpinned the ten-year strategy. So now we’re a quarter of the way through those ten years, this seems a good time to assess the progress that’s been made so far – as well as the challenges that remain.
- In my 2005 lecture, I outlined three false dichotomies in childcare – three false choices which threatened to confuse the debate about the way forward.
- First, that Government must choose whether to encourage parents to stay at home, or help them with childcare and encourage them back to work. Second, that childcare policy is either top-down and Government imposed, or bottom up and parent-driven. And third, that we either choose between a universalist vision, or target resources on those who need them most.
Providing choice and flexibility
- On the first, I believe we have shown that Government doesn’t need to choose between encouraging parents to stay at home, or providing childcare so that they can return to work.
- It isn’t the role of the State to make that decision. Staying at home or returning to work must be a choice for parents, and our role is to make that a real choice – to make both staying at home and returning to work practical and realistic, so that parents can do what is best for them and their children.
- So we made choice the first of the ten-year strategy’s four key themes. We recognised that parents needed better support in balancing work and family responsibilities – a balance that I know can be difficult to find – and that we needed better arrangements for paid leave after children’s birth, and improved access to flexible working.
- By 2004, mothers were entitled to twelve months maternity leave, but only 6 months of statutory pay – and 75% of mothers returning to work in the second 6 months said that they were doing so for financial reasons.
- So the ten-year strategy committed to extend paid maternity leave to 9 months- which we’ve delivered – as a step towards our aim of 12 months paid leave by the end of this Parliament. That goal reflects the evidence that consistent one-to-one care is particularly beneficial in the first year of a child’s life. It also reflects a huge change from 1997, when only 4 months of paid maternity leave was available.
- We haven’t just focussed on mothers. We introduced paid paternity leave for the first time, and we’ve committed to a goal of introducing Additional Paternity Leave and Pay by the end of this Parliament, so that fathers can take up to 6 months leave, some of which may be paid, where the mother has returned to work.
- And another focus has been ensuring flexibility in the workplace as children are growing up. So we’ve introduced the right for all parents of children under 6 and disabled children up to 18 – that’s 3.6 million parents – and for carers of adults – that’s 2.6 million carers – to request flexible working, and made sure that employers have a duty to consider those requests seriously.
- There’s still more we can do here. But together, those changes mean we’re providing parents with the flexibility and rights to choose the right balance between work and family, and providing a real choice between staying at home, and returning to work.
- Whatever balance they choose, it’s vital that parents have the confidence that it will positively affect their child’s development. We need to look closely at all the emerging new research in this area, and we do – both the recent Neighbourhood Nurseries research study and the other major study of childcare in England, the EPPE study, have been commissioned by the Government.
- We know from the available evidence, including the EPPE study, the wide benefits that preschool has on children’s development – in reading, maths and language development, but also in confidence, sociability and independence. And while we know how important one to one care is, especially for the youngest children, we also know that what really counts is the quality of that care, whether from parents or from nurseries.
The role of the market in childcare
- So it will be parents’ decisions that determine the level of demand for childcare. But how should we respond in ensuring that supply will meet that demand? As I said in 2005, we know from our work – and the work of the Daycare Trust – that we can’t just wait for the market to respond.
- We saw in the 1990s that when that happens, very few low-income families can afford the childcare available. Leaving childcare to the market could also mean inconsistent; some poor quality care; and incomplete information for parents. And the market will also fail to capture the wider social benefits of childcare.
- So the Government has to intervene to regulate and sometimes subsidise childcare, to correct these market failures. We transferred responsibility for regulation and inspection to Ofsted in 2001, to give parents confidence by ensuring that standards are met in all childcare settings. And where appropriate, we subsidise childcare, through free entitlement to early education for 3 and 4 year olds, and the childcare element of Working Tax Credit. And the Government will be monitoring the response of local authorities to their new duty to secure sufficient childcare – because we know it won’t be enough simply to leave everything to the market.
- But it isn’t the case that this Government involvement means a system of top-down, state provided childcare – the idea that we have a choice between either that or leaving childcare to the market is the second of my false choices.
- Because there is today a major role for private, voluntary and independent providers, who provide the dynamism that the childcare sector needs, and who can respond to the changing patterns of demand, and changing parental needs. It’s the variety of types of childcare providers that gives the sector its strength, and helps to provide choice.
- We know that we can only achieve our goals by working with practitioners and professionals – like those of you here – and I’m looking forward to hearing some of your views today.
- The third false choice, which I want to come to now, is that you either have a universalist vision for childcare, or target resources on poverty and disadvantage.
- I talked in 2005 about our belief in progressive universalism – providing support for all, with more support for those who need it most. That has always been our vision. And so in childcare, we’ve committed to universal support for all 3 and 4 year olds, because the evidence suggests that all children benefit from preschool. But we’ve also targeted our resources on those who need it most – through the Working Tax Credit, for example.
- Progressive universalism has always been at the heart of the concept of Sure Start Children’s Centres. They already reach over a million children, and I can confirm today that we have now – by committing to increase spending on childcare, early years and Sure Start to £1.6 billion by 2010 to 2011, £340 million more than current levels – set aside the funding to meet our goal of 3,500 Children’s Centres by 2010 – a national network, one in every community, serving nearly 3 million children.
- These centres will bring together, for the first time, an integrated set of services for under fives and their families: childcare, parenting, but also crucially health and employment services. And this isn’t just another Government initiative, piloted one year and discarded the next – our plan is to make them a permanent feature of our 21st century universal welfare state.
- So we are working to provide support for all. But we are also providing more support for those who need it most, by investing much more heavily in disadvantaged areas. Here, Children’s Centres will have high quality early education and childcare services, and provide intense parenting support to those who need it. And it will be vital that health and employment services are fully involved, in many cases co-located, so that the centres can offer seamless support. Across the country, we need Primary Care Trusts to back this agenda fully, as we know the long-term benefits it can bring. We need to make sure the funding follows our ambition.
- And it’s not enough for these services to just be there, waiting for parents to come to them. We need children’s centres to reach out to families in their local communities, and particularly those families that need their services most – so that they can help disadvantaged families to start taking the first steps out of poverty.
- As with so many of the things we want to achieve, that will clearly be challenging – but we’ll need to rise to that challenge, and meet it, to ensure that Children’s Centres achieve everything we want them to, and everything we know is possible.
- Progressive universalism was, and is, at the heart of our vision for Sure Start; it’s also the basis of our ten-year strategy. And so the strategy recognises that to support everyone, we need to improve availability; and to support those who need it most, we need to help them by improving the affordability of childcare. Alongside choice, which I talked about earlier, these were key themes of the strategy – and I’m pleased to say that together, we are making progress on both of them.
- On availability, there are twice as many childcare places now – one and a quarter million – than there were ten years ago. Nearly all three and four year olds take up some of the 12 and a half hours a week of free early education they’re entitled to – which we will extend to 15 hours by 2010, and later to 20 hours. And we’re ahead of trajectory to deliver on our pledge of out of school childcare places for all three to fourteen year olds who need it, between 8 am and 6 pm every weekday, again by 2010.
- And on affordability – which is crucial to providing that real choice I talked about earlier, between staying at home and returning to work – we’ve introduced tax and National Insurance relief for employer-supported childcare, and over 400,000 families are benefiting from the childcare element of Working Tax Credit.
- Using targeted support to make childcare affordable is a key part of our vision of progressive universalism; and it’s also central to our strategy for tackling child poverty.
- As many of you will know, child poverty doubled between 1979 and 1997, and became the highest in Europe. One reason was low employment amongst lone parents. But by improving their access to childcare – so that only 14% now list childcare as a barrier to work – and by making work pay, we’ve raised their employment rate by 11 percentage points. And our policies on affordability have also made childcare more accessible for lower-income working families.
- We know that work is the best route out of poverty, and childcare has a huge role to play here – enabling parents to work, so that their children have more access to opportunities and resources. But it’s also important to emphasise that high quality preschool can help break inter-generational cycles of poverty, because of its impact on children’s wider development.
- So childcare will be central to our child poverty strategy, and to achieving our targets of halving child poverty by 2010, and eliminating it by 2020. These targets are among our most important, and also our most challenging. But we have made progress. If we had simply uprated the tax and benefit systems by prices since 1997, there would be 800,000 more children in poverty today than there were then. Instead, there are 600,000 fewer – and by continuing with our policies of progressive universalism, and by rejecting the false choice between universalism and targeted support, we are making progress towards our goal to halve child poverty by 2010.
The role of local government
- In 2005, when I outlined the three false choices I’ve spoken about today, I also talked about two more detailed issues: ensuring the right role of local Government in childcare provision; and developing and empowering the workforce that we need. These were challenges that we needed to face, and I’d like to look now at how we’ve handled them over the past two years.
- On the first, my argument in 2005 was that we needed a stronger strategic role for local authorities, who have the knowledge and local relationships needed to co-ordinate provision at a local level, in a way that central government simply cannot. And local authorities are far better placed to ensure that parents’ particular childcare needs, and shifting patterns of demand, are met.
- Last year’s Childcare Act – the first ever Parliamentary Act dedicated to childcare – recognised the need for far better coordination of supply and demand for childcare, at the local level where it will make most difference to parents. There are now important new roles for local government, including assessing supply and demand, and a duty to ensure sufficient childcare for those parents that need it – with a particular focus on disabled children and disadvantaged families.
- Some Local Authorities are already doing this, which of course we welcome – for others, the Act provides an opportunity to think strategically about the provision of childcare across their local authority. And the opportunities here are great: I know that some are aiming to develop real-time, web-based management of supply and demand – so that parents’ needs are met as quickly as possible. But the best local authorities understand that their impact will be greater still if they work proactively with childcare providers to raise quality.
A high-quality workforce
- The second challenge I raised was ensuring that we have the right workforce in place, and achieving parity of esteem between early years workers and primary school teachers. We know from the evidence how much better outcomes for children can be when settings have more highly qualified staff.
- We have taken steps forwards here. More childcare workers are now qualified to level 3 than ever before, more settings are led by graduates, and the Transformation Fund provided £250 million over two years to improve staff development – including specific support for settings employing graduates. But we know we need to continue to invest through the coming CSR period and beyond, and we remain committed to graduate leadership in all full daycare settings by 2015, and to going further than that.
- And it’s not enough to focus only on workforce skills; we also need to look far more broadly at how we can help to improve the quality of childcare, and work with you to make that happen. For a start, it is vital that parents have adequate information available to them about the quality of the childcare available to them in their area.
- We do now have integrated regulation and inspection of childcare settings through Ofsted, which is having an important impact on raising standards. But we also need to do more to ensure Local Authorities can challenge and support childcare settings to improve – especially when settings have a poor inspection result. And I want to mark this out today as a particular challenge for us over the next few years – and one that we will be looking to those of you here today, and those that you represent, to help us meet.
- I cannot end without mentioning one further issue – the complex and often overwhelming childcare challenge faced by many parents with disabled children. At the end of my lecture back in 2005, I was immediately collared by Francine Bates and Brian Lamb from the Every Disabled Child Matters Campaign, who ticked me off that I had not emphasised enough another challenge – ensuring that childcare meets the needs of all children, including those with disabilities. They were right.
- And when, as a result, we subsequently looked at this issue, as part of our Disabled Children Review, we found that many parents were finding it hard to access appropriate childcare. And so I was delighted to announce last month, as part of the £340 million package announced in the review, that we will set up a childcare accessibility project, supported by £35 million over the next three years, to find the best ways of meeting provision for disabled children.
- These projects must provide solutions to the challenges that childcare providers face and show how every childcare setting with the right training, resources, and attitudes, can include children with even the most complex needs.
- DfES are now working on implementing this as part of the CSR, and we look forward to your help to improve awareness and trust of services for disabled children, and to improve both the general and specific skills of the workforce to deal with this group..
- This is a key initiative because we know that if we can get it right for disabled children we can get it right for all children.
Posted November 26th, 2015 by admin
- In conclusion, we’re proud of what we – both the Government and the many people who have worked closely with us – have done to give every child – including every disabled child – the best start in life. A quarter of the way through the ten years, we have made good progress. But we’re not complacent – we’ll need to remain focused, and to continue to work hard.
- I believe we’ve shown that we can avoid the false choices of childcare, and we’ve shown that we can make progress towards our vision of parents having a real choice between work and childcare – because there is quality, affordable childcare that meets parents’ needs – and children’s needs – available when they want it.
- We will continue to work hard to move towards our ten-year vision. But we can’t achieve it on our own. We’ll need support from the voluntary and private sectors, and to hear from parents, academics and professionals who understand these issues.
- Fortunately, I know that organisations like the Daycare Trust will remain as dedicated as they have been over the last 21 years, and will continue to work to identify ways in which we can improve the start in life we provide to our children.
- We’re very grateful for that, and for events like today that allow a real exchange of ideas about the best way forward – and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today.
- Thank you.