Previously published in Independence magazine, National Committee member Michelle Rodger blogs on the importance of childcare if women are to work.
MY 18 year old daughter left school earlier this year and after the whirlwind of activities that included a Leavers’ Ball, Leavers’ Evening with parents, final Prize Giving (the senior ensemble singing Highland Cathedral accompanied by the school pipe band left me in a very soggy mess) I got to thinking about her/our early years before school.
I was MD of our IT business at the time, and running our own business meant childcare wasn’t an issue. After my nine days maternity leave (yes, nine, and seven of those were in hospital after the birth) my baby daughter simply came to work with me. There was a never-ending line-up of employees desperate to hold her while I chaired a meeting or typed up a proposal. She slept on the end of my desk and I sat in the boardroom reading Time magazine out loud to her while she fed.
But it wasn’t always so simple. When we exited the business I went to work for the company that acquired us. In Hamilton. A trip that took me an hour on a good day, and nearer two on a bad one, each way.
I needed wraparound childcare, albeit it wasn’t called that then and it wasn’t provided as a service by the nursery we used. So suddenly childcare became a huge challenge for me. It was a real shock to the system. Most mornings I dropped my daughter at my sister’s at an ungodly hour before heading to start work at 8am, and my sister regularly picked her up, took her home to bathe and feed her before I picked her up in time to take her home to bed.
It wasn’t ideal, although she appeared none the worse for it, and I know that my situation was no different to that of mums across the country. When my daughter was one year old I started to work for myself and to this day I work from home – for me it was the best way to manage childcare, but not all mums can enjoy this “luxury”.
Which is why the Scottish Government’s approach to widely-available, affordable childcare is so incredibly important: it has increased entitlement from 475 hours a year to 600, the equivalent of about three hours a day for all three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds with a commitment to effective full-time free childcare – 30 hours a week – by the end of the next parliament in 2020.
So when I heard acting Labour Leader Iain Gray at FMQs recently saying Labour would charge parents up to 10 per cent of their income to pay for childcare I was stunned.
This 10 per cent charge would see:
- A couple with average household income pay £3,350 for childcare they currently receive for free.
- A couple from the poorest household income decile pay £1,780 for childcare that they currently are entitled to for free.
What Iain Gray and Labour fail to appreciate is that increasing investment in childcare is a policy that will provide significant economic and social gains. Charging for something that is already provided free will simply hurt families – and the economy – and is an utterly ridiculous position to take, making it harder for women to return to work and even forcing women to leave jobs because they can no longer afford the childcare costs.
Increasing the number of women in the workplace is essential; from an economic perspective every 1per cent increase in the female workforce boosts the economy by £100m in tax revenues. But I, and others, believe it could also help the workforce become a more equal and fairer place.
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, says the financial crash would never have happened if women had been in charge of the largest banks. That may or may not be the case. But we’ll never encourage women into top jobs – or any jobs – if we can’t provide the kind of childcare that facilitates a return to work.
Childcare isn’t just a women’s issue. It affects everyone: fathers, grandparents, other family members and friends. The number of grandparents providing childcare increased year on year as access to affordable childcare was difficult to find. A report last year from the Family and Childcare Trust (Childcare Costs Survey 2014) found that childcare costs for a family with two children were more than a mortgage. It’s outrageous.
Even employers are affected by childcare, or rather, the lack of it. As a former employer we offered very generous maternity and paternity packages long before it became compulsory to do so. And while I was the only female employee to have a baby while working at the company, we had created a policy aimed at encouraging women back to work on a phased return basis, providing back to work training and flexibility in the early months at the same time.
For a small business, losing a member of staff on maternity/paternity leave can be extremely difficult to manage. Not only is there a cost implication (advertising for and then training a new employee) but there’s an impact on continuity while a new employee is trained and brought up to speed. And, perhaps more importantly, the longer a member of staff is on leave the greater the chance that on their return the job and/or technology may have changed. Keeping up with new technology, software, social media channels is a challenge at the best of times, but with six months or more away from a job it can prove to be daunting on return.
The Scottish Government’s action on childcare is a crucial part of growing our economy, but it’s also about providing support for young families when they need it most.
I believe the transformational childcare plans will give women the freedom to start their own businesses – like me – which would significantly increase women’s contribution to the economy. The Association of Scottish Businesswomen (ASB) has said that a change in childcare provision would see the contribution to the Scottish economy made by women-owned businesses more than double, increasing from £5bn to £13bn. I, for one, would love to see that happen.