Sturgeon should let grandparents look after lockdown kids – Alex Cole-Hamilton

Nicola Sturgeon, aka ‘the Minister for Cuddles’, could ease the lockdown to allow grandparents to provide childcare, enabling parents to go back to work, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton
The older generation can step in to provide childcare to enable parents to go back to work, says Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Picture: Ian Rutherford)The older generation can step in to provide childcare to enable parents to go back to work, says Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
The older generation can step in to provide childcare to enable parents to go back to work, says Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

There’s going to be a baby boom early next spring. This weekend and for the first time in months, lovers who do not live together were reunited under the new ‘extended household’ policy.

In one of her (now famous) lip-sync routines at the height of lockdown, Glasgow comedian Janey Godley dubbed over a Sturgeon press conference to suggest the FM was resisting such a policy by saying, “Look, ‘am no the Minister for Cuddles, OK?” On Thursday, Minister for Cuddles is exactly what she became.

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She announced the policy stating “it will allow a grandparent who lives on their own to form a group with another household in their family, a single parent and their children to join with another household for support, and a non-cohabiting couple, where at least one of them lives alone, to be reunited indoors without physical distancing.” Even from six seats back and four across I could see her blush.

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Of all the announcements offered around the easing of lockdown last week, the creation of ‘extended households’ offers the most human comfort. My social media feeds have been awash with moving images of reunions and hugs, people bubbling up to form extended households and revelling in the physicality of human contact. The 15 weeks of lockdown have been brutal for those facing it alone and this shift will really help, but spare a though for those in shielding, to whom the policy does not yet apply.

Whilst it created a solution in terms of loneliness for some, the First Minister’s announcements on Thursday also created a huge problem for many in another area, but it’s one where the extended households might offer at least a partial solution.

The problem is this, with the move to Phase 2 and the cautious re-opening of many aspects of our economy, lots of employers have started taking staff off furlough and asking them to come back to work. That’s fair, factories and shops can’t run themselves – but who’s going to look after the kids?

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The Government seems, in this latest set of announcements, to have entirely decoupled the opening of the economy from restarting schools and childcare. I have had many anguished emails from parents who’ve been told to begin work this week but their kids don’t qualify for key worker childcare at the hubs; their normal nursery isn’t operating yet and their grandparents are still off limits.

Nobody should be forced to choose between employment and childcare, but with the introduction of this phase, that’s exactly what is happening and the Scottish Government have got this wrong. We now face a looming national crisis in learning, in childcare and, by extension, further unemployment. We can’t leave parents in this kind of limbo, so today I’m asking for the First Minister to consider a solution. I want her to take further scientific advice on this and if it stacks up then she should broaden the extended households policy, beyond those who live alone. Doing so would allow working families to bubble-up with grandparents – many of whom are desperate to see their grandkids again. At a stroke, it would relieve pressure on the desperately limited number of available non-keyworker childcare places and give thousands of Scottish families a solution to this childcare conundrum.

Without a quick fix, then Nicola’s announcements are going to create a headache for parents that could swiftly become a nightmare. If it’s safe to do so then we should enlist our armies of willing grandparents to help and we should do it now. Scotland’s childcare capacity was stretched to the limit before this crisis, and with all those new babies arriving in March it’s only going to get worse. Grandparents are part of the solution, they’re ready to help and we should let them.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western

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