After 15 years as parents, we understand the problems Londoners face with childcare. Of course, we are among the luckiest. We both earn a decent wage and, for us, the rising cost of childcare has made it harder to make ends meet – but not impossible. Most Londoners juggling their family budgets haven’t been so lucky.
The problem has got far worse since David Cameron became Prime Minister. On average, London families are now spending a shocking £14,000 per child on childcare every year. Are you one of the thousands of London families looking for a nursery place for your child? You’ll now find yourself paying half as much again as you did in 2010, and a quarter more than your friends in other parts of the UK.
The strain on family finances has been unbearable. Families with two children have seen their bills increase by almost £10,000 a year under this government. The hardest hit have been poorer Londoners – because the percentage of income spent on childcare by poorer families has risen much faster than for wealthier Londoners. It’s one of the key reasons for the growing gap between the rich and poor in our city.
Reading this on the bus, tube or train, you may well be a mum or a dad, and if not, you might be one day. What you might not realise is that this crisis has been directly caused by the government’s conscious decisions. Under the coalition, we’ve seen the number of childcare places cut by 35,000, and there are nearly 600 fewer Sure Start children centres than at the last general election.
And it’s not just families that suffer. Having childcare cost so much more in the capital than in other parts of the UK damages the competitiveness of London’s businesses and hurts our economy. Nearly two-thirds of London parents say childcare costs have affected their decision about whether or not to work, and even more say it has impacted on how many hours they work. There are countless highly-trained and talented Londoners who are kept out of the workforce because of the cost of childcare, and more than a third of “stay at home” mums in London say they would like to work. The UK lags behind many Western economies on maternal employment rates.
So what should we do differently? Labour is committed to providing an extra 10 hours of free childcare a week for all three and four year-olds. That will increase the number of free hours from 15 to 25, and it’s worth an extra £1,500 in the pockets of parents every year. Another part of our plan is providing “wraparound childcare” at primary schools. We will work with schools to deliver childcare before and after the school day, so that parents can hold down a much-needed job with a guarantee that their children will be looked after from 8am to 6pm.
But the problem is so severe in London that we need our mayor to get a grip. We need strategic leadership across private provision, local authority and government centres. The mayor should be persuading London’s businesses to provide childcare wherever possible – time and again, this has been shown to make good business sense. And he should be working with London’s local authorities to keep our remaining Children and Sure Start centres open.
In New York, mayor Bill de Blasio has shown what an active leader can achieve. In just one year, he has created a free, pre-kindergarten place for every child in New York. He worked with public, private and community organisations – providing the leadership needed to get it done.
This issue embodies the problems facing many Londoners today. The capital may be the best city in the world to live in, with more and better paying jobs than elsewhere, but the rocketing cost of housing, childcare and transport means life is becoming harder with each year that goes past. We must make it a top political priority to reduce the cost of childcare.