Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

South London Press column: Childcare in Camberwell & Peckham - 2

When I first became an MP in the 1980's, one of the biggest complaints from local mothers bringing up young children on their own was the lack of childcare.

The difficulty of trying to keep a toddler happy and entertained - especially in a small flat; the dread of rainy days because even going to the park would not be an option. Too many felt isolated – with their own parents living far away from them.

There were no community nurseries and no help with the cost of the very few private nurseries, or with the cost of childminders.

Their aspirations for themselves and their children were the inspiration for what we did when we got into government in 1997.

Parents should have access to childcare which is affordable, accessible and high quality.  Our National Childcare Strategy – through childcare tax credits, Sure Start Centres and nurseries in the NHS and colleges – led to a massive increase in childcare provision. There were 2,500 more childcare places in Southwark alone.

Now, 3 years in to a Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition Government – that progress on childcare is slipping back.

Childcare tax credit, which helps parents pay nursery or childminders fees, has been cut. The Government Grant to Southwark for children services like Sure Start has been cut.

There are more children under five in Southwark but fewer childcare places. Fifteen hours a week free childcare is just not enough for many mothers to get a job or work the hours they need. 

As mothers, whose pay has stagnated, save money by cutting back on the hours of childcare they use, they rely more on a patchwork of family and friends.  And this undermines the continuity of care for the child.

And some have to give up work altogether and fall back on benefits.  As the Government is cutting back, the price is being paid by children and parents and a growing benefit bill.

That's why Southwark Council is working hard to protect children's services and why we, if we get back into government, will guarantee parents 25 hours free childcare.

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