Scotland’s Future Debate - Childcare
Monday, June 2nd, 2014 @ 9:17AM
Last week the Labour Party chose to use it’s business slot to debate childcare. Kezia was very pleased to open the debate, you can read her contribution, and the motion put forward, below.
If you would like to catch up with the rest of the debate click here.
Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): Thank you, Presiding Officer.
When the white paper was published in November, I was as surprised as the next person to see that childcare was front and centre. A policy area that is completely devolved was being sold as the cornerstone case for independence. The commentariat was quick to link the policy to the polls and the sizeable gender gap when it comes to support for independence.
Although we added our voices to the collective cynicism, we did not lose sight of the ambition for a transformation in the provision of childcare. Whatever the result of the vote at 5.30 today, the Parliament will have accepted
“That the Parliament resolves to keep childcare at the top of the political agenda”,
as it says in the first line of the motion.
That is no mean feat. I hope that we will make good on that promise, because high-quality, affordable childcare can transform lives. It has a clear economic benefit, it has clear links to closing the educational achievement gap, it is central to gender equality and it is key to tackling child poverty. The issue lights the fire of the Labour Party, because it is at the heart of our pursuit of equality and social justice.
It is one thing to unite behind a single line in a motion; it is quite another to unite behind a long-term vision for childcare in Scotland, which carries the support of at least the two major parties in the Parliament. That is why the motion calls, again, for a cross-party Scottish childcare commission, which would set out a route map for the long term. I will return to that.
First, I want to spend a considerable amount of time focusing on the childcare policy that is outlined in the white paper, and on the various twists and turns that the policy has taken over the past six months. That needs to be on the Parliament’s record and it is a matter of regret that that has not happened before today. I have been truly shocked by the spin, the vacuity and the handling of statistics around the issue. I cannot make up my mind whether there has been wild incompetence or deliberate deception.
Regardless of that, let me go through each twist and turn. I do not intend to give way until I have got to the events of May, when I will happily accept an intervention—preferably an apology—from the minister.
First, let us look at the white paper. The approach to childcare is set out in three phases. In phase 1, 600 hours of childcare, for 50 per cent of two-year-olds, will be delivered in the first budget in an independent Scotland. In phase 2, all three and four-year-olds will get 1,140 hours of childcare a year by the end of the first parliamentary session. In phase 3, all children from age one to school age or five will be entitled to 1,140 hours of childcare.
According to the Scottish Government, the associated costs are £100 million for phase 1 and £700 million for phase 2. That includes no capital costs whatever. The Government has not published the cost of phase 3, but the Scottish Parliament information centre tells us that it will cost £1.2 billion. Again, there are no capital costs associated with that phase.
When the Scottish National Party was asked where the £700 million would come from, it said that it would come from the tax receipts of the 100,000 more women who would go into work. In January, the Government published the paper, “Childcare and Labour Market Participation: Economic Analysis”. Alex Salmond boasted that he had published that “very important” paper
“so that everybody can read and understand these things.”
However, the paper contains an interesting footnote, which says:
“Note the analysis below illustrates the impact of a boost in female participation rates rather than a specific policy. The specific proposal will have its own unique implications for the economy and budgetary impacts. These are not simulated here.”
Essentially, the Government had examined the impact of there being 100,000 more women in the labour market, but that had no direct or substantiated link with its own childcare policy.
On 6 March, the Institute for Fiscal Studies rang the alarm bells when it stated that there was little evidence that a major expansion of early learning and childcare would lead to tens of thousands more women getting jobs.
On 11 March, Tom Gordon from The Herald received confirmation in a freedom of information response that there was no modelling of the Government’s childcare policy. The response stated clearly that the Government’s modelling was of the impact of having more women in the workforce, not
“the impact of improved childcare itself.”
A separate FOI request sought details of how long the Government had given itself to get 100,000 more women into work. Was it one year, five years or 10 years? That FOI request was refused on public interest grounds. Let me read out the response. It states:
“We recognise that there is some public interest in release as part of open, transparent Government and to inform public debate. … However, there is a stronger public interest in high quality policy-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies, particularly on such a significant issue as childcare. This means that Ministers need a private space within which to obtain the best possible evidence and advice from officials to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Disclosing this advice and evidence while the childcare policy is still under discussion and development may undermine or constrain the Government’s ability to develop that policy effectively.”
While the Government was touring the country saying that only independence could deliver transformational childcare, officials in Victoria Quay were desperately trying to work out how it could be done.
However, it gets worse. On 2 April, SPICe published its paper on early learning and childcare. It revealed what many of us already thought: there are not enough women. As outlined right at the beginning, the SNP maths was based on 100,000 women who have kids under the age of five joining the labour market. However, there are only 64,000 economically inactive women and only 14,000 of those are actively looking for work.
The SPICe paper added that a rapid increase in the number of women joining the workforce might lead to suppressed wages. It states:
“This could have wider implications for the labour market and on incentives for women to enter the workforce.”
There is not just a problem with the number of women who have kids under the age of five and are looking for work. Another issue is the nature of that work. The calculations in the Government’s paper released in January are based on the median salary of both men and women—£26,000 a year. However, the reality is that the median salary for women in Scotland is £17,000, because so many women work part time.
When Alex Salmond was questioned about that on “Politics Scotland”, in both January and April, he cast that aside and arrogantly pointed to the employment statistics that show that 60,000 more women returned to work in the past year alone. In the January programme, he said:
“The vast overwhelming majority of these extra jobs are full time”.
In April’s programme, he said that they were “mostly … full-time jobs”. Neither of those statements was true, and in parliamentary questions that were asked in my name and answered by John Swinney they were demonstrated not to be true. The vast majority of those jobs were, in fact, part time on a two-to-one basis. The major boost to female employment statistics comes from women aged over 50 who are returning to work, not from young mums.
That matters, not simply because the First Minister misspoke, but because it fundamentally undermines the maths once again. Part-time workers pay less tax and tend to have low-paid jobs. What about those jobs? The idea that a young mum who has been out of work for three years can walk into a £26,000 job is nonsense. I want transformational childcare for lone parents in Niddrie, Pilton, Wester Hailes and Gracemount. It is the lives of those women that I want to transform. Alex Salmond wants their votes.
Another, final twist came on 2 May, when the Government revealed, in response to an FOI request from Tom Gordon, that there was childcare modelling—it just would not be released. I will read out what the response said:
“While the strategic policy direction has been set out in the White Paper, detailed policy design work is continuing. The premature release of this detailed modelling-type work could be to the detriment of the full consideration of the entirety of the evidence and the options which underpin development of childcare policy. The modelling work forms only one part of a wider evidence base used to continue to develop this policy. Release of this information could therefore lead to a narrowly focused debate which may not allow for the measured consideration of all evidence on the best way to deliver the policy highlighted in the White Paper, and this would not be in the public interest.”
That is “Yes Minister” speak for, “We scribbled all over the fag packet and we still can’t make it add up.” Forget the public interest; it is clearly not in the minister’s interest for the information to be in the public domain. Let us get this absolutely clear—the Government refused to provide full workings for a paper that it published in January, which it published so that, in Alex Salmond’s words,
“everybody can read and understand these things.”
We were told that publishing some results in January was pertinent and a good thing, but that publishing all the results in May would be premature and a bad thing. We understand the Government’s childcare policy all right—we understand it to be an absolute shambles.
However, there is a road back. The Government could commit to a childcare commission and stop hijacking the debate on childcare for its own ends. The Labour Party has set up the every step campaign, and we have been touring the country asking parents for their first-hand experiences of childcare. We know that the quality and flexibility of childcare are just as important as the cost and we understand how important workforce issues are to parents. Parents care about what people who work with their kids in nurseries get paid, their terms and conditions and their qualifications.
We understand that childcare does not stop when kids go to school and that, if anything, the issues get worse. The SNP’s policy is based only on children who are three and four years old and some two-year-olds, but the challenge is much broader than that. Parents want wraparound care and they want more investment in breakfast clubs, but those are the two things that have faced the brunt of the Government’s cuts to local authority budgets. Parents want council services to be joined up, and they want their politicians to join up, too. I note that the minister’s amendment mentions my colleague Malcolm Chisholm and Willie Rennie. However, the Government can hardly boast about cross-party working when so much of the understanding of the Government’s approach has had to be unearthed through parliamentary questions and FOI requests, many of which have been rejected or avoided along the way.
I want transformational childcare. I want to transform the lives of the mums whom I meet regularly at rhymetime in Craigmillar library. There is no incentive for them to work just now. I do not want to send them into a low-paid poor job on a zero-hours contract. I want them to go to college first and get the skills that they missed out on in school, but they cannot do that because of the cuts that the Government has made to the colleges budget. The task is made all the harder by the fact that there are 93,000 fewer part-time places for women in our colleges than there were in 2007, with nearly a quarter of a million women being denied a place in further education over the past seven years. That is the Government’s responsibility.
I know that members on the Government benches share the passion to help those women get back into work. Those members see independence as the answer, but I believe that their proposal is in tatters. We need to get round the table and address the issue together. I see the ministers shaking their heads and saying that the proposal is not in tatters—they could not be more removed from reality. Their officials are telling them that they do not have the answers and that their policy is still in development, yet they sit and laugh. I find that truly shocking.
I look forward to the debate. Once again, let us take the politics out of this, get round the table and work out a long-term vision for childcare in Scotland that we can all get behind.
That the Parliament resolves to keep childcare at the top of the political agenda regardless of the referendum result; believes that the SPICe briefing, Early Learning and Childcare, which was published 2 April 2014, has discredited the childcare claims made by the Scottish Government in the white paper on independence; notes that the Scottish Government has refused to publish its own economic modelling and, in the interests of transparency, calls on it to publish all of the information that the childcare claims in the white paper are based on; agrees that good quality, affordable and flexible childcare is essential in supporting many families; believes that all parties should work together on a long-term vision for childcare in Scotland and reach a consensus on the delivery, availability, affordability and financing of a comprehensive childcare strategy, and further believes that, to begin this work, a Scottish childcare commission with all-party support should be established.