Gina Davidson: A lot to learn on childcare policy

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EARLIER this week I had the privilege of attending the first all-women Cabinet event, organised by the Scottish Government as part of its roadshow around the country to promote its White Paper on independence.

There were nearly 150 women in the audience to put questions to Nicola Sturgeon and the other female ministers, and I was amazed at how few of their faces have been seen on debating panels or in television debates during this whole process. Here was a room full of women, with varying opinions on independence, and yet so few ever seem to make their voices heard beyond their own organisations.

So I was desperate to hear what they had to say, and what they wanted to know. And while I’ve been rather scathing that an issue like childcare is always referred to as a “women’s issue” rather than a parental one, and that the SNP’s plans for expanding nursery provision are seen as bid to woo the female vote to Yes, it was ultimately the subject which more or less dominated the debate.

From economics in terms of getting more women into the workplace and generating more tax, to the low pay and poor career prospects of women working in childcare, to the lack of creche or nursery and after-school facilities at workplaces and universities which could allow women to study or to return and remain in jobs – it seems that childcare is indeed many women’s major concern.

As a mum of three I completely understand that knowing your kids are somewhere safe, being cared for and educated while you’re at work is vital. Having childcare which is flexible and preferably cheap is also pretty damned important.

And yet, the narrow scope of the debate around the subject is something I find rather depressing. With the referendum, we’re supposed to be being offered the chance to create a new type of society, not just recreate what we already have. Not once have I heard a politician suggest that a root and branch review of how we as a society regard the balance between work and life is needed.

As one woman in the audience did say, “I like my children, I’d like to actually see them”, surely the emphasis on childcare reform should be more focussed on making society a more flexible place, not just on how many women can be stuffed into low-paid, part-time jobs so they can pay the tax needed to cover the costs of expanded state nursery hours.

I don’t actually believe that pre-school kids and younger should be in nurseries for the same number of hours that children are in school. I’ve even come round to the idea that we put our children into school at far too young an age as well – a throwback to Victorian times when getting them in early meant getting them into the workforce at 14 if not younger.

Why can’t we be debating these ideas for change rather than working with the current system? Why can’t we be thinking how as well as making Scotland an attractive place for businesses, how we can make it an attractive place to work for businesses? Flexible working arrangements, working from home where appropriate, the chance for parents – not just mums – to reduce hours then increase them again later – and making sure these are given when asked, not just giving parents the right to ask for them and turning it down for spurious reasons.

Then there’s making sure proper rates of pay – living wage at the very least – is paid so childcare costs don’t eat into wage packets to the extent that they rule out the idea of working in the first place.

And of course all this flexibility to should be available to all workers, not just parents. I would suggest that it would make for a happier workforce, and ultimately a more productive one.

It’s a childcare policy I could vote for.

Bile and vitriol no way to run this campaign

WITH less than 100 days to go, the independence referendum is certainly stepping up a gear when it comes to vitriol. This week the invective has been spewed at carer Clare Lally, above, and multi-millionaire JK Rowling, below, two very different women but both Better Together supporters. By declaring their intention to vote No they found themselves at the centre of violent whirl of social media insults while an SNP spin doctor even felt it necessary to write to a national newspaper decrying Ms Lally.

One of those who felt aggrieved at Rowling’s donation of £1m to the No campaign was Edinburgh-based Bill Wood, the director of Scots-African charity The Dignity Project. His charity’s tweet about the author was highly insulting – although he later claimed the Twitter account had been hacked.

Whether the charity regulator which is now investigating will ever get to the bottom of that we’ll have to wait and see, but the blood is definitely up among supporters of both sides – each claiming the other side is worse of course.

The old homily that if you can’t think of something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all, needs to be applied pronto.