Comment: Scotland must improve childcare provision

'Childcare is often the family's biggest monthly bill'. Picture: TSPL
'Childcare is often the family's biggest monthly bill'. Picture: TSPL
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SCOTLAND must do more to give parents the opportunity to both nurture their children and stay in work if they wish, says Dave Watson

Childcare in Scotland has changed exponentially over the past decade. We are, however, a long way from building a society with genuine space for parents to nurture children, and stay in work.

Childcare is often the family’s biggest monthly bill. Parents in Scotland pay 27 per cent of their household income on childcare. More than 60 per cent of mothers say the high cost of childcare is a significant barrier to taking on more, or any, work.

The workplace penalty for motherhood is substantial: taking time out makes it harder to find a job when you return, it can and does lead to lower wages, and a gap in pension contributions.

Parents want to balance a decent income and time with their children. Subsidised childcare helps. But we must also change workplaces with better flexible working, part-time work and paternity leave to reduce the impact of motherhood on women’s earnings and the gender pay gap. The living wage, minimum year’s paid maternity leave, rights to time off and flexible working, and ongoing training and development opportunities regardless of whether you work full or part-time are important in helping ordinary women and their families.

The Scottish childcare system is complex and stressful to work your way around. Until you know what specific childcare is available it’s impossible to say what hours you will be able to work. Parents can’t secure childcare until they know what hours they may be expected to work or how much they will be earning.

Expanding childcare is about better lives for families, not forcing parents into full-time work. This will bring longer-term savings to a range of public services and short-term savings to the benefits bill.

Transform childcare and we transform Scotland. Preventative spending to really tackle inequality. It needs free childcare delivered in the public sector; fair pay, professional development, preparation time and study leave for nursery staff; research what type of care parents want; extension of paid parental leave; improved flexible working rights. A comprehensive strategy, not simply a political bidding war over hours. It’s Scotland’s future, so it’s worth investing in now.

• Dave Watson is Scottish organiser for Unison Scotland