Thursday, 21 June 2012

Childcare: Cameron to check out Swedish models?

A government commission on childcare is being set up to investigate possible ways to ease prices and increase places, as many working parents, yours truly included, have found themselves spending more on nannies or nurseries than they do on their mortgage.  When both partners share the bread-winning duties, associated childcare costs can typically top £5,000 per annum, even for part-time provision, and you can treble that in the capital, says the Childcare Trust in a recent report.
Lead by Children’s Minister Sarah Teather, the commission will look at the potential for making the school day longer, focusing on the issue of expanding “wrap-around care”. Ms Teather explains this to be both breakfast and after-school clubs, provided by schools on their own initiative, or “working with private sector providers or voluntary sector groups”. Additional aims of the commission include a general  examination of the effectiveness of government support, and any scope for cutting red tape that increases cost but not quality.

Alongside such cost-cutting measures considered, may come a loosening of related legislation. Currently, childcare providers working with the under -fives, need to maintain a ratio of one adult to three children. Conservative back-bencher Liz Truss has been arguing for an increase in that ratio to one for every five. Now, mercifully, my childcare commitments have so far been solely of an amateur nature. However, I find it alarming enough to return from an unscheduled nappy refurbishment to find the older sibling casually juggling cutlery, or dining on play-dough, let alone what toxic tasks another three of them might have undertaken. But I’m all for balancing the budget.  

By all means allow our child-minders another two charges, just first explain why that encourages them to cut costs down for the rest of us. Our bailed-out banks fail to pass on the bargain base-rates, and OPEC omits to increase oil production despite the punitive price of petrol. If there is a model for sharing the benefits of government intervention and easing market conditions, then it’s certainly not set in stone, or even plasticine.

Foremost in the great and mighty minds involved in the study, we are told, will be learning from some excellent examples of childcare amongst our European cousins. Now, the Swedes must have developed vertigo from the pedestal they’ve been put on, when it comes to state-sponsored pre-school provision, so I predict glowing overtures towards the Swedish system, which is to be rightly applauded. However, any attempt to duplicate the Scandinavian blueprint would be to run a Formula One team on a Sunday league budget. The Swedes pay higher taxes, they didn’t invade Iraq, they have 500 troops in Afghanistan to our 9500, and they don’t have nuclear weapons, let alone a plan to replace Trident. For some inane reason they have placed nurturing the next generation over foreign interventionism and cold-war paranoia, which leaves a lot more cash for crayons. The more fool them!

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