Penelope Leach says UK childcare fails to offer parents choice

Childcare expert Penelope Leach has criticised MPs for making decisions on childcare and families when they do not fully understand the reality of life for today’s parents.Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival last week, Dr Leach said that problems with the options currently available to parents stemmed from the fact that policymakers have never experienced the same problems themselves.

She said parents need more choice.Dr Leach’s latest book, Child Care Today (Nursery World Reviews: For Your Shelf, 22 April), argues that the childcare system in Britain should be based on that of other countries, such as France, where new mothers are given a monthly payment to use as a salary or pay for childcare while they return to work.‘Hardly any politicians, academics or policymakers find it necessary to leave their own infants in the first few months in less than high-quality childcare. Quite a lot of them have no idea what it would be like to have no other choice,’ she said.

Dr Leach added that, while politicians can afford to pay for nannies or support their partners to stay at home with children, single parents are often forced to take any job they can or face losing benefits.She said, ‘I feel strongly that people care for children better when they are able to do it in the way they choose. A lot of people are forced to go back to work when they would prefer to stay at home, and a lot of mothers would like to work but cannot find a job that is flexible. What works for one parent does not necessarily work for another.’

She added, ‘Where childcare is working best is where it is funded by taxation, in the same way education is. You can still have a private system, or a voluntary sector, but it should be like a health service, available to all in times of need.’ 

What do you think? Do you think we should have fully funded childcare in Britain?

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