Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Southwark News column: Childcare in Camberwell & Peckham - 10/4/2014

Southwark Council is right to be setting up a Childcare Commission, chaired by local MP Tessa Jowell, to look at how all families can have access to good quality, affordable, flexible childcare. For all the progress on childcare made in recent decades, that is slipping back under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Something needs to be done.

Since 2010, there are more children under 5 in Southwark but fewer childcare places. 15 hours a week free childcare is just not enough for many mothers to get a job or work the hours they need.  And childcare is too expensive for many families. The average cost of a part time nursery place in Camberwell & Peckham for a child under 5 is £110 a week. For a mother on average local earnings this is almost 40% of her pay on childcare. And some parents have to give up work and rely on benefits.  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.

Many parents have let me know the problems they have trying to balance work and childcare. For example, a self-employed single mother of 2 children from Peckham told me that the 15 free hours don’t offer enough flexibility to allow her to expand her mobile hairdressing business. So she has had to reduce her working hours to look after her children – just like her mother had to.

A mother of 3 children from Camberwell said that she had left her senior role in a national charity to become a professional child minder and look after her own children at the same time because she couldn’t make work pay and afford the childcare she needed.

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

When we got in to government in 1997, 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.

Today the Government is cutting back on childcare tax credit - which helps parents pay nursery or childminders fees - and the Government Grant to Southwark for children services like Sure Start. 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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