I have been trying to think how best to reply to Alex Salmond's latest idea to have free universal Childcare in the new Independent Scotland.
He wants to emulate Sweden but before reading what I have to say below, read this cry for help from Sweden - http://www.barnensratt.se/index-en.htm?news-en.htm
My thoughts, as I tried to compose my letter to a newspaper are too many to include in one letter, so here are the various angles from which I view this whole issue of childcare, benefits, families etc.
1 Many people believe that it is by no means ideal for children to be placed in full time care in a nursery from the age of 1. Many parents and psychologists believe that up until the age of 3, a child should have one primary carer. Usually up until now this care has been done by the mother but many fathers now also take on this role. Interestingly it's often full time fathers who get the interviews on radio and the media publicity ! But as a full time mother myself for a few years, I did meet some full time fathers and I also met some parents who shared care by having two part time jobs or two jobs on different shift patterns.
However, leaving aside the pros and cons of nursery care vs stay at home parent, it should be recognised that families should be free to choose either option and in both cases a financial sacrifices have been made. If nursery care is chosen, up to now that has involved some financial sacrifice although it is subsidised through some benefits, but, if one parent gives up a job or goes part time to care for their own child this also involves a massive financial sacrifice and yet the latter option is not supported in the benefits system at all for either low income parents or middle income families.
And we are being encouraged to take on the Swedish system (a high tax country by the way !), but in Sweden, stay at home parents of young children receive 1/6 of the average pay to support their valid choice to stay at home. And Australia is also looking to adopt this model, partly to filll the gap in a lack of recruits to the childcare "industry".
Which takes me to another thought....it does not seem to be seen as a valid choice to look after your own children yet we expect young women (usually) to take on this role as childcare workers !
And again, this also brings to mind the annoying statement from was it George Osbourne in 2013, who stated that being a full time mother was a "lifestyle choice " - how insulting. I would invite him to watch videos of my children having a fantastic childhood - full of laughter etc and they also spent every day at toddler groups, swimming, playgroup at age 3 - tell me to my face that I made a "lifestyle choice" George !
2 The second part of this issue is that the SNP seem to see this policy's main benefit as being to generate income ! I have heard that stated a few times. However this is based on the idea that all the mothers will return to the workforce.
But....as one childcare worker is needed for every 3 or 4 children aged under 3 (see ref 1) then what I would say is why not free up that childcare worker to take a full time job and instead use the subsidised childcare money to divide between the parents of those 3 or 4 children, giving them 1/3 of a wage to stay at home. = SORTED !! And .... it would leave two extra jobs to be taken by two other people. So if you pay the subsidy to the stay at home parents, it still leaves 3 people in the workplace and 3 happy people paid to stay at home. If the nursery option is taken then you have only 4 people working and two unemployed people needing a job and needing unemployment benefit.
In Summary :
Using Nursery :
--- 3 parents return to work ----- 1 childcare worker ----- 2 unemployed people in society
Subsidising the parents instead to care for own children :
--- 3 happy parents ----------- 3 workers taking the vacated jobs from the parents
So I hate to tell you Alex Salmond and Co. - it would pay to have people look after their own children - and they would be more economically active out taking their children to swimming pools etc than sitting in an office or stuck in a nursery !
3 With Regards to Independence Debate for Scotland
With regards to the Independence debate, I am sorry that this issue has become part of the debate at all. I was all for voting for Independence. I would like Scotland to be a thriving, modern European country, fully integrated and trading in Europe. I have seen many of our modern IT and engineering/design companies which tend to be invisible generally but are tucked away in numerous business parks etc.
However the concern for many parents is actually where are our teenagers and graduates going to get work? Currently many graduates have to work abroad. And not through choice in many cases. And graduates and students are taking all the jobs in supermarkets etc and it is now almost impossible for those aged 16-18 to actually get a part time job, certainly in the Glasgow area.
4 And finally the benefits system must be changed so that family benefits come directly to families and are not tied to childcare use. The current childcare tax credits, child tax credits etc provide subsidies of up to £23,000 for nurseries for a 2 child family. Both parents must do at least 6 hours of work to get these benefits. So there is a huge pressure and a huge amount of money involved in pressuring low income mothers back to work.
But similarly at middle incomes, families where one parent earns £60,000 have now lost their one last benefit and no longer receive child benefit. The partner may either not work or may be working part time on a low income but the overall family income is not taken into account. So that anomaly is that a family on 2 x £49,000 income (ie joint income of £98,000) will keep ALL their child benefit, which amounts to about £2,000 for two children. In addition those parents have not been hit by the 40% tax rate so much AND, they receive two personal allowances. So, society has decided to reward those families. But...often the two parents on the £49,000 income are in maybe state employed secure jobs. No worries - they can get a mortgage and know they have a job for life. They can make plans !! Lucky them !!
But contrast this with the family with one parent on £60,000 - often this salary has been achieved by them working overtime, working abroad or away from home or unusual hours. You don't get a salary for that for nothing in most parts of the UK ! Maybe in certain better off areas you do but not in Scotland !! However the other side of this story is that often this entails the other partner having to reduce their hourse, take a less responsible job etc or becoming self employed and working from home. This is why there are many families with one main earner and one lesser earner. But....has David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the government taken this into account in their policies ? You got it - NO! A big fat NO.
Come on guys you must do better - did they not teach you to look at the whole picture at Eton ?!?!??
Come to think of it....what did they teach you ?
Ref 1 - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219660/More_20Great_20Childcare_20v2.pdf