How we've lost our way

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Last week, the Resolution Foundation hosted an event in partnership with the Family and Childcare Trust reflecting on what we have all learned in the decade since the 2004 childcare strategy about the best way forward.


Vidhya Alakeson

What struck me most about the discussion was that the world of people who care about the life chances of children has become polarised: the stay-at-home mums against the working mums. The former is in favour of the married tax allowance and a home care allowance, while the latter wants greater investment in childcare and more flexible working. What intrigued me was how we got here when all the evidence indicates that both parental care and formal care matter.

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education study, which influenced large parts of the 2004 strategy, was unambiguous about the importance of children's home learning environment for their development. The study showed that what parents do at home has the greatest influence on children's outcomes in the early years and that a good home learning environment can be found across all income groups.

We also know that growing up in poverty has a devastating impact on children's development. Money matters and staying out of poverty is now harder with only one person in work. Single breadwinner families are now at greatest risk of poverty. This is in part a reflection of the vastness of Britain's low paid labour market and cuts to tax credits. But poorly paid jobs are an unfortunate reality for many and these families need affordable and high-quality childcare to be able to work.

We have got to the point in this argument about the merits of staying at home or going out to work where neither side is listening to the arguments of the other. A decade ago, when the previous Government produced the country's first comprehensive vision for childcare, there was simultaneously a focus on support for parents and parenting programmes. There was a moment when we were clear that parents and childcare both play important roles. Let's get back to those saner times.

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