Katherine Sangster, a Labour member and a working mum, looks at the reality behind Nicola Sturgeon’s rhetoric on childcare funding.
On 25th February, Nicola Sturgeon made a speech to the David Hume Institute in which she described childcare as an economic necessity – empowering parents, especially mothers, to get back to work. She went on to say:
“Early learning and childcare promotes opportunity twice over. It enables parents to enter the workforce now and provide a better standard of living for their children.”
The SNP have pledged to double the number of hours of free care for three and four-year-olds from 16 to 30 hours every week.
As a mother of four who has always worked I could not agree more with our First Minister. However, despite her assertions, many, many families in Scotland receive nowhere near the 600 hours a year nursery funding the Scottish Government claim they are already delivering.
I remember my own experiences of returning to work in 2005 after the birth of my first two children. I worked for a £100 a month, once my childcare was paid.
Many people wouldn’t consider working for such a staggeringly small sum – or worse still would find it economically impossible. But I thought it was worth it to stay in employment so that my career options did not shut down in the future.
I say “career options” slightly ironically, as I was now on the painfully slow “mummy track”, stuck in the furthest corner of the office with all the other part time mums working on projects none of the “proper” workers would dream of taking on.
We spent our days running the gauntlet of disapproving looks when we dared to leave the office at 5pm to do some manic journey across town to pick up children from nursery. “Thanks for popping in” was the office joke. But my boys loved nursery, made tons of pals, and three days a week I got to drink a hot coffee and speak with other adults, so it seemed okay.
I remember counting the months and our ever increasing debt until my oldest son turned three and we received government funding towards my childcare place. Like many mothers I questioned whether it was actually worth it, but things got easier as time went on. Challenging and more financially rewarding opportunities came my way, but that cheque from the council was always welcome!
Now, a decade later, many, many parents across Scotland (me included) are not as lucky as I was then, and there is no welcome cheque to ease the pressure of mounting bills. Several councils in Scotland are now failing to deliver this crucial financial lifeline to thousands of families. There is simply not the budget to deliver the funded places as promised.
Despite Nicola Sturgeon declaring her administration’s childcare policy “a massive success story”, I receive only six funded hours for my youngest child out of the sixteen hours the Scottish Government claim to provide for every three and four year old in Scotland. Without this financial support many parents can simply not return to work at all or suffer real financial hardship continuing in jobs whilst spending virtually all their salary on childcare.
This issue seems simply to have escaped most people’s notice.
For the last few months I have threatened strongly worded letters to MPs, MSPs and councillors but, of course, like most working parents at the end of the day I am so frazzled I can hardly string a few words together to my partner before I slump in front of the telly, so penning a succinct and intelligent piece to your local politician seems a herculean task!
So I was delighted when the childcare funding issue was finally highlighted by Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale. She held the SNP government to account for their failure. The result? Her recent post on Scottish Labour’s Facebook page attracted 147 comments, each attacking the Labour Party or attacking Kezia personally and some with an undercurrent of threat and misogyny.
The most stomach churning reply was “Have this Kezia fellow shaved and brought to my quarters”.
One brave woman responded to these mainly male commentators, bewildered that no-one was discussing the issue that she was unable to access the childcare hours promised by the Scottish Government.
She was accused of lying.
You’re about to say this is just to be expected on social media. But the culture of anti-politics or pseudo-politics is everywhere, not just confined to the trolls online.
Anti-politics is all the rage but it isn’t helping cash strapped families and it isn’t helping our elected representatives understand the realities faced by working parents.
There’s a problem with childcare. I’m glad Kezia Dugdale is working to improve things. That’s the sort of politics we need.