British families need a childcare ‘guarantee’ said shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne MP today, at the start of National Childcare Week.
Speaking at an event organised by political think tank Reform, Byrne said Britain needs to reform its childcare system in order to grow the economy and increase levels of female employment.
He pointed out the British system is "one of the world’s most expensive" (only Denmark and France spend more at 3.7%, according to The Guardian), and yet we are ranked just 15th for female employment by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Byrne called for policymakers to look at ways to "squeeze more daycare" out of our system and guarantee families more childcare (such as expanding hours for three and four-year-olds), while aiming to increase comprehensive provision over the next decade.
Byrne has just returned from a fact-finding mission to Copenhagen where childcare policies allow most women to work full-time.
“If we brought our female employment rate up to the level of the Danes we would have a million more women in work, and we would have four and half billion pounds in extra tax,” Byrne said.
Christine Antorini, Danish Minister for Children and Education, who attended the event to share insights about the Danish system, compared the British childcare to the well-funded, yet notoriously inefficient, American health care system.
“Maybe it’s the same as the States. It’s very expensive for the few, and it’s no good for the rest." she said.
"It think must be so hard to be a family in Britain. In Denmark we believe it's totally possible to have a job and raise a family. But it's almost impossible here - unless you have a lot of money."
She also highlighted that comprehensive childcare provision demonstrates a genuine commitment to gender equality.
"In Denmark, we don't accept that your gender means you don't have the same possibilities - it's so important that boys and girls have the same chances in life. "
"I wouldn't be where I am today without our childcare system. I didn't have a lot of money when I was younger and it wouldn't have been possible."
In Britain, cash childcare is delivered through Sure Start start and childcare grants, plus the employment tax credit and childcare tax credits.
Byrne said: “The hypothesis is the Danes are squeezing more daycare out of the same money than we are - because they have a different mixture of services rather than cash injections. And that’s what we want to explore.”
In Britain, families end up spending 27% of their net income on childcare as opposed to 9% in Denmark, despite the Government spending 3.6% of GDP on family benefits.
“We need to ask, ‘What does our guarantee to families look like and how can we make it progressively larger over the next decade?'” said Byrne.
Right-wing think tank centre forum has also suggested that UK childcare needs to be overhauled.
A recent report by Conservative MP Elizabeth Truss argued that regulation should be simplified and childminders allowed to care for more children at a time, to attract higher-paid staff.