07 Dec 2012,
The first is that childcare policy has become an increasingly important issue for politicians. Although steady and sustained progress was made in expanding childcare and nursery places during Labour's years in office, the fact that costs are still high and rising for millions of working parents, while all the time their living standards are falling, has meant that childcare has shot up the political agenda.
The political parties are now competing for attention on childcare in ways that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. This is good news for those people, like me, who believe that creating a universal pre-school childcare and early learning system along Nordic lines is a key strategic priority in Britain. It means we are now arguing as much about the 'how' and 'when' of improvements to childcare, as the 'why?'.
The second is that contemporary feminism has new energy and real political momentum, which is helping to feed political attention to issues like childcare and parental leave. A new generation of women writers, activists and policymakers is shaping policy debate, using social as well as traditional media and new campaigning techniques. The long-run changes in our society, which have seen women join the labour market in huge numbers and overtake men in educational attainment, are playing themselves out in our politics, giving women new voice and power.
Men are changing too. Fathers increasingly want a greater share in, and responsibility for, the care of their children. They need new rights at work to enable them to play that role. The Government recognises this, but has failed to bring in the ring-fenced paid parental leave and employment rights necessary to make it happen. Yet further change is inevitable. The arc of progress is long, but it tends towards greater equality between parents, to coin a phrase. When as many men read Nursery World as do women, we will have got there.