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Thursday, April 25, 2024
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HomeLaura PerrinsBudget childcare bonanza ‘to be applauded’: But what about the babies?

Budget childcare bonanza ‘to be applauded’: But what about the babies?

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I TELL you what, that ‘free’ childcare announced by Jeremy Hunt in Wednesday’s Budget sure is expensive. It will cost £17.3billion over the next five years and is the biggest increase in childcare spending ever. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies it amounts to a new branch of the welfare state. The Times says: ‘This is to be applauded.’ 

I mean, what’s not to like about extending 30 hours of ‘free’ childcare to under-twos and then to babies of nine months of age, but not until 2025. As the Times editorial says, it’s just win-win, ‘the case for intervention in this broken market is straightforward: affordable childcare makes it easier for parents, particularly mothers, to return to work, in turn boosting GDP and sparing the state from additional spending on other handouts.’ So much winning. 

What’s that you say? What about the children? What about the babies? Isn’t it a bit cruel to separate nine-month-old babies from their mothers? Where is the evidence that says this kind of separation from your mum for long periods of time is good for the nippers? Please, dear reader, do not ask such a questions, because there is no such evidence. There is plenty of evidence, however, suggesting it is bad for young babies to be separated in this manner. Surely you know that by now that when it comes to the Tories, the cruelty is the point. 

You have got to hand it to Comrade Hunt: he certainly believes in ‘going big or going home’. He didn’t get the Chinese lockdown he wanted – the one where Britain would be a police state and people would be dragged kicking and screaming from their families on a positive Covid test, but he got his socialist, statist, welfare state in the end. Why, the sunlit uplands are right around the corner, just beyond that empty playground. 

The Tories got the headlines they wanted as it was free childcare all the way from 6am (the Budget being briefed, of course) until I switched off the radio at around 8pm in sheer disbelief. Not that everyone was happy. Once the small details got out there, a lot of the callers to LBC were rather annoyed that it wouldn’t kick in until 2025, and it wasn’t enough anyway as the 30 hours only apply in term time, not the whole year round, and everyone knows that nine-month-old babies should be childcare six hours a day, 50 weeks of the year. 

Some person called Tracy Crookes, chartered financial planner at the wealth manager Quilter, said the support ‘does not go far enough in solving the financial burden that parents must take on when it comes to childcare. It should not be forgotten that the 30 hours free childcare only runs during school term time, which effectively means it becomes a 22 hours free childcare scheme for working parents’. That’s gratitude for you. Tracy sounds lovely. 

I also noticed some parents of older children being properly miffed by the fact that they will never benefit from this hand-out, subsidy, and massive extension of the welfare state. 

Anyway, I do want to acknowledge that it is incredibly difficult for a young couple to have a family on a single income. It has become virtually mandatory in the last decade for both mothers and fathers of young children to be working, often full-time, given housing costs, food costs and energy costs. 

If these huge childcare subsidies help families with young children with these expenses, then I am genuinely relieved and happy for them. It was even reported that six in ten women said the high cost of childcare was one reason for ending a pregnancy. If this measure helps more women to continue their pregnancy, it is obviously a good thing.

But it didn’t have to be this way. The Tories could have built more housing as it is really housing costs that hinder family formation. They could also have adopted the French taxation system which is much more family-friendly and does not punish mothers who care for their children themselves.

But the Tories didn’t do this, because as always, the cruelty is indeed the point. 

This gargantuan childcare subsidy represents the final assault on the private sphere, as you cannot get more private sphere than a mother caring for her child.

Well, I for one have always tried to hold off from putting the tiny terrors into the nursery. This is not to say that I enjoy every moment of it, I don’t. Of course, it can be tedious at home with young kids and hard if the weather is poor and you can’t get out. And of course, I freelance while the tiniest terror is asleep. 

But where would I be without my baby John around the house? Who would pull out all the pots from the drawer or demand the sponge so he can go around ‘cleaning’? How am I supposed to go shopping without the little man in the trolley enjoying looking at all the nice things and demanding that they be opened before we get to the check-out. And I couldn’t deprive all the old ladies who love seeing my little prince and commenting on how lovely he is. Just who, may I ask, would play football in my kitchen while I make dinner and then pull the dog’s tail? He will be in Montessori for a few hours soon enough. What exactly is the rush? 

Hunt believes that babies and toddlers are ‘barriers’ to work that must be managed, compartmentalised, and shipped off to nursery so mummy can get on with the noble pursuit of making money and building a career. Most normal societies see very young children as something to treasure and care for. But then we don’t live in a normal society. 

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