The government’s childcare announcement, fronted by the formidable Liz Truss, is another attempt to appeal to working mothers and to spread privilege by removing some of the barriers for women who want to return to work after having children. Never mind that Labour and a left-leaning think tank complain this isn’t as generous for low-earners as it is for those on higher salaries: the intention is to cut back on the staggering cost of childcare with parents claiming back £1,200 per child (the previous scheme was per household). Labour is anxious about this too: the party knows it left government with an extremely expensive childcare offer, and has been hard at work trying to remedy that before 2015.
There are two problems with this very welcome announcement. The first is that it doesn’t actually start until Autumn 2015, which means the Coalition can’t reap any benefits from a policy that’s up and running, instead having to rely on parents hearing the noise around the announcement. The other is that it will rile the section of the Conservative party which believes the Tories should be doing as much to help mothers who want to stay at home (this announcement doesn’t help them), and that it should demonstrate its commitment to marriage with a married couples’ tax break.
But Truss’ work on cutting the cost of childcare, along with shared parental leave, has the potential to change workplaces where a senior female member of staff is as rare as a unicorn. Every so often, professions go through a period of soul-searching about where all the senior women have gone – those who work in parliament had this debate recently – then realise that as these are no longer Mad Men days when women are considered less capable, there must be a problem with childcare that’s keeping women from rising through the ranks. At that point, the ‘Where have all the women gone?’ discussion falls silent, as there’s not much individual sectors can really do about the cost of childcare. But there’s a lot the government can do: and even though there’s a little wait for it, anything that gives women the choice to keep progressing in their careers and contributing to the economy will go a long way.Tags: Childcare, Liz Truss, UK politics