ONE of the main reasons why Laura Perrins and I set up The Conservative Woman was the Marxist revolution in childcare we saw was taking place under the West’s noses and, astonishingly, was being helped on its way by ‘conservative’ as well as overtly ‘progressive’ and socialist governments. It alarmed and dismayed us. In the UK, how could the once pro-family Conservative Party be investing policies that separated babies and young children from their mothers and undermined families’ responsibility for their babies’ nurturing and their children’s upbringing?
We had no doubt that this was not just damaging to both children and mothers, but was also inequitable, heartless and uneconomic. This anti-family, anti-maternal socialist revolution had been initiated by Labour under Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown. By 2014 when we began it was in full swing. The consequences for poor child development and misery were all too evident. Later, the poor mental health, identity addiction and herd mentality that were to become so visible, explain much about youth aquiescence to the new ‘Covid’ State.
This is why we think it important to republish a series of articles on this broad topic, written from 2014 onwards, to remind ourselves of what we, as a society, signed up to with so little heed to the biological and moral imperative of a mother’s care or to the critical importance of families functioning independently of the State.
This article, first published on March 2, 2015, is an example of the blinkered vision ‘gymnastics’ of the ‘great and the good’ trying to explain the inevitable poor outcomes of the government’s over expensive and under performing (now nearly £5billion a year) childcare investment.
WHENEVER I read a new report on the state of the nation’s childcare industry, I get a sense of déjà vu.
The latest, from the House of Lords Committee on Affordable Childcare, motivated by the best of intentions, is a case in point. It is also a case of back to the future.
The ‘real problem’ with childcare, say their Lordships, is the lack of educated staff. We have been here before. In 2011 Professor Cathy Nutbrown of Sheffield University was asked by the Government to review early education and childcare qualifications. Her conclusion, too, was the dearth of qualified staff. She even said that more qualifications are demanded of people working with animals than of carers working with children.
The Lords Committee goes further. Childcare in England is not just too expensive but of such poor quality that the Government has been wasting our money. Ah, that Holy Grail of universal access to high quality affordable childcare has still to be attained.
Their Lordships do break the mould in one respect, however, for which they must be congratulated. They point to the inherent contradiction between the Government’s aims of helping mothers pursue careers and improving their children’s development. But they are mistaken in thinking that either childcare qualifications or overhauling cash allocations in the direction of the poorest children is the answer. Qualifications do not equal ‘quality’. Access to them does not equal mother care.
No, the real problem of modern childcare they ignore is its institutional nature – third party stranger and group care for young infants. The real problem is subjecting babies and infants to this too young and/or for too long. The real problem is this heartless daycare revolution – a revolution no less in nurturing and rearing the nation’s babies and infants – that has exploded over the past 15 years thanks to government subsidies and regardless of infants’ happiness and welfare.
Mothers have managed without qualifications for millennia. They are what babies want and need. You don’t have to live next door to a pre-school nursery or have much imagination to know that infants are not born to be herded; that they are no place for two-year-olds, let alone newborns and one-year-olds, to spend 40 hours a week.
The childcare lobbyists however persist with the mantra that ‘high quality childcare can make a crucial difference to the development of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds’. Few dare gainsay it. Not even the Lords’ Committee. But this is an irrelevance to most children and a pipedream for the rest, however hard the childcare lobbyists scratch around for or concoct evidence.
The truth is that childcare has consistently failed to deliver on its promises. Sure Start is a case in point. This is the early intervention/childcare programme instigated by the Labour Government at the heart of its bid to reduce inequality. As Jill Kirby revealed in 2006, it made no difference at all to those it was meant to help. In some cases the Sure Start control groups (infants not exposed to its ministrations) had better outcomes! So much for Labour’s ‘every child matters’ rhetoric.
But the childcare bandwagon rolls on. Its cost to the taxpayer is now £5.4billion a year – set to rise to £6.2billion – a sum that would solve some of George Osborne’s problems. Nearly a third of two-year-olds whose parents have taken up Nick Clegg’s offer of free early education (extended only to the most deprived children) are in centres rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.
It all raises the question of why this agenda is still so assiduously pushed by the Government when it is so obviously failing.
In the 1970s, daycare was a backstop for the most deprived, about 2 per cent of all UK children, whose mothers were deemed not up to the job on their own. Today political ideology has taken over. For Labour and Tories alike, childcare is a must for their respective ‘reduction of inequality’ agendas. Yet there is absolutely no evidence (despite the Lords Committee’s assertion to the contrary) that childcare makes any difference. Longitudinal cohort studies and impact evaluations of specific programmes reveal indifferent or marginal returns, if any.
The Head Start programme in the US, set up by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his Great Society crusade in 1968, tells a salutary tale. It too, you will have guessed, was designed to help the most disadvantaged families and infants in their pre-school years. Though it included pre-school education health screenings, health and dental check-ups, home visits and mother support, it has proved less a case of ‘head start’ than ‘fall back’. Evaluations show that despite the billions invested in such programmes, they have made next to no impact on children’s outcomes. Time magazine’s columnist Joe Klein has called for Head Start’s elimination: after 45 years of not proving itself, he thinks it is time.
So no wonder that I had a sense of déjà vu. The Lords now propose coaching parents to talk to their children, as did Head Start in the late 1960s. Who could say this is not a good idea? Maternal language is indeed the key to a babies’ development. But who will be the coaches? The unqualified childcare staff? How about restoring their status as mothers instead and underlining the responsibilities of motherhood?
No, the childcare juggernaut rumbles on instead and Nick Clegg’s free childcare beckons for these very same mums. Childcare is good for children, they will be told, even if it isn’t, at the moment or ever.
Critics brave enough to point to its failings are, sadly, not brave enough to call for an end to this appalling experiment and risk-taking with the nation’s infants. I suspect they dare not question the feminist orthodoxies that demand it.