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.
8 thoughts on “SNP childcare policy is not working for working parents”
“that cheque from the council”
There’s the flaw in your argument. Cheque from THE COUNCIL. Councils, not the Scottish Government, are responsible for delivering childcare.
There isn’t infinite money. All the Scottish Government can do is divide up their fixed pot between councils and let them get on with it as they see fit. And since most councils in Scotland are Labour-run, your beef is with them. Perhaps you could pass that on to Kezia Dugdale.
The SNP government has cut council funding every year since 2008. Of course you’re right there isn’t infinite money, but the SNP Scottish Government has control over this in three critical ways:
First, it decides how much of the Scottish block grant is spent on councils. It has consistently reduced that proportion since 2008.
Second, it makes the pledges on things like childcare. If councils can’t afford, from the money the Scottish Government gives them, to deliver the existing commitment, surely they SG should recognise that a further pledge is not honest?
Third, the council tax freeze is enforced with a mobster’s offer. Councils are told they could choose to put up CT if they wanted, but they would lose tens of millions of pounds from their block grant. So a council choosing to opt out of the freeze would have to increase CT by over 4% just to stay on an even keel. Councils have no choice.
So the argument that the failure to meet the SNP’s pledges is down to the councils involved is simply dishonest. If the SNP actually want to help working parents they should fully fund their pledges.
“The SNP government has cut council funding every year since 2008”
No it hasn’t! It has frozen council tax and compensated councils for any loss of income by providing extra funding.
“Second, it makes the pledges on things like childcare. If councils can’t afford, from the money the Scottish Government gives them, to deliver the existing commitment, surely they SG should recognise that a further pledge is not honest?”
Shouldn’t we rather suspect that councils are failing to commit to an existent budget commitment because of ideology and party political obstruction towards Government? After all most councils are Labour controlled are they not?
“Third, the council tax freeze is enforced with a mobster’s offer. Councils are told they could choose to put up CT if they wanted, but they would lose tens of millions of pounds from their block grant”
So you acknowledge there is a council tax freeze compensation package.
And thereby shooting down your first claim of a cut in council tax.
And it doesn’t make sense in asking to increase council tax when any shortfall from the council tax freeze is already being compensated for.
It looks like greed and incompetent fiscal management.
“So the argument that the failure to meet the SNP’s pledges is down to the councils involved is simply dishonest”
Oh I think its crystal clear where the dishonesty is coming from.
“If the SNP actually want to help working parents they should fully fund their pledges.”
Its only Labour who says they don’t! While promoting the idea of depriving the Scottish Parliament of Full fiscal autonomy and the extra funding it brings.
Disingenuous to the last Duncan.
“It has frozen council tax and compensated councils for any loss of income by providing extra funding.”
This is simply untrue, Mike. And if you won’t believe me on that, will you perhaps believe Green councillor Gavin Corbett? http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/blog/council-tax-the-path-not-taken/
The reality is that the freeze is only “fully funded” at the level of expenditure in 2008. We have seven years of inflationary pressures, population growth in some areas, population aging in some areas, since then, and councils’ hands have been tied. As Gavin Corbett explains very clearly in the link above, the terms of the freeze mean that councils are in an impossible position, unable to increase CT without incurring the loss of millions, meaning an increase of over 4% would be necessary simply to break even.
“Shouldn’t we rather suspect that councils are failing to commit to an existent budget commitment because of ideology and party political obstruction towards Government? After all most councils are Labour controlled are they not?”
It is not just Labour who are making these points. I already quoted the Greens above. Here’s Edinburgh’s newly elected SNP group leader in the Evening News: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/politics/new-city-snp-leader-not-afraid-to-upset-balance-1-3716862
He says: “In terms of the council tax freeze, we’ve got to a point now where we need to have an argument about raising taxation to a level where we can deliver services.”
You can’t dismiss that as anti-SNP ideology. You can’t claim “it’s only Labour” who say the SNP government isn’t funding its pledges. That’s an SNP councillor saying it.
Ask your own local councillor whether she or he thinks the CT freeze is fully funded. If they’re honest, they’ll tell you no it is not.
Is it pure coincidence that its only Labour party members who appear to suffer under SNP policy? Do you believe you are being deliberately targeted?
Only the other week it was a Nurse who wasn’t an actress but who actually was but who was also a Labour party member with a very close relationship with another Labour party member activist.
If this is the best you have during an election campaign then you might as well stop campaigning. Seriously.
Well said Katherine – the 600 hours childcare entitlement is a mirage if it’s not properly funded. Scotgov/SNP is funding free school lunches centrally, but the childcare allowance is being squeezed by the CT freeze. But hey, they sent £440 million underspend back to the Treasury last year!
“He says: “In terms of the council tax freeze, we’ve got to a point now where we need to have an argument about raising taxation to a level where we can deliver services.””
This argument is hollow and has been for years because we have been hearing this argument made before privatisation took away major public services and we still hear it after privatisation took away major public services. It seems that by removing the cost and responsibility for public services we get extra pressure and extra cost added to public service which clearly flies in the face of all logic and reality.
The effect of privatisation was supposed to relieve these pressures on the public purse but since the massive program of Privatisation over the last couple of decades the demands have been greater for more public funding at local level! What did they find to spend it on when they no longer had the services which were privatised to spend it on?
Local Council “Reality” would have us believe that funding for public service is Inversely proportionate to the actual services deliverable!
What I get from reading that is a Scottish Government putting a cap and a “LIMITATION” on any attempts any council makes in trying to increase their budgets. They are not trying to stop councils from increasing their budgets they are “SENSIBLY” not allowing them to do so unfettered and by any amount they seem fit to demand!
Isnt that “Prudence”? Would you trust any council under anybodies control not to ask for more funding than they actually require? I know from personal experience with dealing with budgets that you always budget for more than you know you will use and anybody given an unfettered unlimited licence to demand what they want will use that licence to get far more than they need.
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