The Tories' slow train creche
Published in: Daily Mail
The government outlined plans for local authorities to guarantee the availability by 2001 of ten hours of child care at school for every child aged between 5 and 14. This is principally to accommodate the needs of working parents. The problem is that it pays no attention to the needs of children - nor to what parents are actually saying.
Children need to be looked after by their parents before and after school. Treating schools as child dumping grounds like this undermines parents' role and responsibilities.
The idea that this is what parents want is false. Most mothers who work would prefer to be looking after their children themselves. They feel forced to work to make ends meet, and resent the lack of financial support to enable them to stay at home to look after their children.
For the Tories, therefore, this might seem to be open goal. It provides an opportunity to chime with the desires of women, to attack state interference with family life, to champion the best interests of children and to uphold the independence of parents
Alas, what they actually came up with yesterday was a politically crass muddle. Although Michael Howard spoke about giving families back the power to make their own decisions, what followed was little more than a feeble attempt to emulate the government's own policy of state interference and manipulation.
Instead of pointing out the dangers of ten hours a day childcare, the Tories went along with it. Instead of attacking the dragooning of women out to work, they said they would extend it. Thus they would give cash to families to spend on child care currently undertaken by family or friends.
At a stroke, this actually extends state interference into family life and the informal, caring relationships that form an essential part of our networks of family and friendship and which should have nothing to do with the state.
Worse still, Mr Howard said childminders would be paid for looking after their own children. But of course, childminders who look after their own children are mothers. To pay mothers to look after their own children is to nationalise motherhood itself. And pinch yourself - this is a Tory proposal.
Next, he said grandmothers who want to become childminders would be given 'fast-track' training on the grounds that the present training system does not make them feel welcome. How utterly absurd. There is nothing to discourage grandmothers or anyone else from becoming registered childminders.
But if people are to look after other people's children, then whether they are already mothers or grandmothers they need to be trained and held accountable. Either you have a state-funded service which requires regulation, or informal private arrangements which do not. What you cannot have is a state service with inferior, deregulated training. Yet that's what the Tories seem to be proposing.
As for the need to help mothers who want to stay at home - the key gap in government policy - the Tories are proposing next to nothing. The help being proposed for mothers at home is risible. Instead of new mothers receiving, as at present,