Published in Guardian Letters, January 2014
Labour’s proposals for universal childcare are by no means supported by everyone on the progressive left (Labour sets its sights on free childcare for all, 30 December). Imposing universal childcare as a cultural norm will both compromise many vital early attachment relationships essential for young children, and interfere with parents’ essential parental learning process, thus merely stoking up intra-familial problems for the future, as children grow older.
These considerable resources would be far better spent requiring more flexible working, bringing down the cost of living (especially housing), investing in parenting education and community-based parent and toddler groups, and implementing family friendly allowances and tax incentives, enabling one parent to stay at home for at least their child’s first three years, if that is their preference – freeing up employment for the unemployed in the process. Shadow minister Lucy Powell is right that mass institutionalised childcare will “have a deep impact on the wellbeing of children” – but in exactly the opposite way to that which she is assuming.
Dr Richard House
Senior lecturer in early childhood studies, University of Winchester