Mr Mayor, please take an interest in the childcare sector and build a London fit for the next generation

May 28th 2012

When I started working with children many many years ago, I never envisaged talking about children and the economy in the same breath. These days, I never give it a second thought.

As part of their broader London childcare project, the Daycare Trust provides an annual review of the capital’s providers; and while no one review can ever be perfect, it does capture a fair snapshot of the sector’s current state of play.

Of course, there’s no doubting London is an expensive place to live, work and do business – with its own peculiar issues that are not always easy to generalize.  Our great capital is made up of a series of villages woven together by the larger global village, and the challenge is making these two dynamics work in a way that allows for successful local economies and an overall successful city.

The survey represents 803 provider settings in London, providing a minimum of 15,275 full-time equivalent places across the private, voluntary and independent sectors (with the private sector providing the most places). So what did the sector say? Well unsurprisingly, the biggest worry is staying in business.

  • 52% said they were fearful that parents cannot afford the fees
  • 47% said they were hit by local authority cuts
  • 33% are still worried about the level of free entitlement funding for 3 & 4 year-olds
  • 31% are concerned about staff recruitment, pay and retention
  • 29% are worried about falling occupancy rates

In all, the sector is worried. But really, it’s the politicians that should be more worried. The economy first of all needs people to work, so they can earn a living and then spend it, helping to flow money through the economy and create new wealth. Having good, affordable childcare is a critical element in helping to make this happen.  Women have been hit particularly hard in this recession, so we need to do all we can to ensure they can work (especially as so many families depend on their vital contribution; the days of pin money are long gone and in many cases women are now the main breadwinners).

And why should we prevent women – who have studied and trained, and then built up a career – from working and making such a valuable contribution? We know the negative effects poverty has on children, families and society. Back in March, we complained that the Budget had done nothing to help parents with the spiralling cost of childcare, that George Osborne had missed a real opportunity to return the childcare element to its previous level and so help parents remain in sustainable employment.

So the sector has now asked the Mayor to step in, and step up to this economic challenge.  We want to see his true colours; and if he can show his central Government colleagues a thing or two about how to lead.  We know he can stick his neck out when things matter to him: he is keen on an estuary airport; he got very excited by Anish Kapoor’s embattled Orbit, the 120 metre public art sculpture at the Olympic Village; and he went head to head with Mr. Cameron on the Euro.

So Mr. Boris Mayor, please shake those famous tousled locks of yours and start with the following:

  • Lobby the Government to bring maximum childcare tax credits for low income families back to 80% [HMRC Child and Working Tax Credit Statistics April 2011]
  • Promote family friendly practice and childcare vouchers amongst all London employers
  • Include the Early Years in your current education inquiry

In his own words:

The strength of a city lies in its people – from the famous, the infamous to the heroically obscure. From an earlier Mayor of London, Dick Whittington to the tireless volunteers working to turn around London’s next generation. All whose endeavours have built the place we call home, I salute.

Boris Johnson.

Now do something that will help build a London fit for the next generation. Take an interest in childcare.