A paper by Labour in London this week drew attention to the capital’s childcare crisis. The document revealed that there were 35,000 fewer nursery places since the Conservatives took office, and that childcare costs have increased by 30%. Labour have announced they will increase childcare for 3-4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week, and will increase funding through a levy on banks. This would create an extra 72,000 places in London alone, where the struggle to keep up with costs is beginning to spiral out of control for many parents.
A report last month by the think tank IPPR drew attention to the present childcare crisis. The study showed the inextricable link between maternal employment levels – on which the UK performs worse than many OECD countries – and the poor childcare provisions Britain has to offer. IPPR said childcare of under-fives was essential to bring about better rates of work and pay for women, and that the ideal proportion of a family’s disposable income spent on childcare should be no more than 10%.
With Sure Start nurseries coming under threat from the government during this parliament – not to mention the TUC’s revelation last year that Britain has Europe’s worst maternity provisions – much more needs to be done. The alternative will be another generation of 50-65 year old women stuck in long-term unemployment or forced to deskill to find work.
I’m therefore delighted to see Labour in London spelling out such a clear direction of travel on this issue. The Tories produce a lot of hot air when it comes to getting women in the boardroom or the debating chamber, but to find sustainable solutions to these problems we need to address the systemic factors that drive women out of the workplace during their early thirties.
Also this week, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon made headlines when he referred to some UKIP members as “literally akin to the Nazis”. Halfon, a comparatively moderate Conservative, said Nigel Farage’s party could be split into two tribes: Godfrey Bloom-style buffoons and more “sinister” nationalists in the mould of Gerard Battern. He ironically thanked UKIP for “cleansing” his party of its lunatic fringe.
Halfon’s words draw attention to a sharp conflict within the Conservative Party, between those who want to remain borderline sane, and a larger faction who see the current state of British politics as an opportunity to drag the centre ground ever further to the right. For the latter group the existence of UKIP provides a convenient excuse; a political imperative to propel their party towards bigotry and knee-jerk populism. As I wrote in my round up last week, the end point in this journey is a type of Tea Party fanaticism which blocks all forms of progress.
So far David Cameron has made a host of concessions, essentially allowing the ultras within his party to dictate policy. One can only hope, for the sake both of British national interests and of democracy per se, that senior Conservative figures start to look beyond the ‘path of least resistance’ solutions they currently seem so keen on.