Malcolm praises North Edinburgh Childcare and looks at cuts to support for working families
Debate on affordable childcare Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I congratulate Jamie Hepburn on securing this important debate. When I saw the report from Save the Children and the Daycare Trust, I was reminded of another report from the Daycare Trust that came out nearly 20 years ago, in 1993. That report recommended that income spent on childcare should be substantially disregarded in calculating income support or family credit entitlement - something that did not happen at the time.

I remember the report well because I asked the Prime Minister of the day, John Major, about it at Prime Minister’s question time. When he did not answer my question I asked a written question, to which he answered, among other things, that low-income families do not use paid childcare. That was not one of John Major’s cleverer answers because that was precisely the problem. Tragically, it is increasingly becoming the problem again today.

To be fair to the Conservatives, they introduced such a disregard in due course, and that was built upon by the Labour Government at Westminster until eventually, in 2004, 80 per cent of childcare costs were met through child tax credits. It is deeply regrettable that the current UK Government has cut that back to 70 per cent. That is what is exacerbating the problems of the affordability of childcare in Scotland and throughout the UK.

Jamie Hepburn’s motion refers to a quarter of parents on low incomes having given up work because of childcare costs and a third having turned down a job on the same basis. The survey specifically asked Scottish parents; we are told that 30 per cent of Scottish parents said that they had cut back spending on food and 62 per cent had cut back spending on clothes in the past year in order to afford childcare.

The tragedy is that because of the actions of the UK Government, that situation is set to get worse, with the introduction of universal credit. Two options have been put forward for universal credit. However, Save the Children tells us that a single parent earning £15,000 a year and paying £230 a week for childcare would be £60 a week worse off under either option. The situation is very depressing, with the Westminster Government rolling back the advances that we have seen in childcare support over the past 15 years or so.

Turning to a devolved context for today’s debate, I accept and understand the difficult budgetary situation that the Scottish Government faces and I therefore realise that action will not be as ambitious as we would ideally wish. However, the Scottish Government should look very seriously at the recommendations from Save the Children. I think that some reference was made in the announcement a couple of weeks ago to extending childcare provision to some two-year-olds, which I certainly welcome, but I hope that the Government will also look at the other recommendations, particularly with regard to out-of-school support for families on low incomes.

I know that the minister has visited North Edinburgh Childcare in my constituency, which has always been an outstanding example of a childcare centre. In fact, one of my earliest campaigns 20 years ago was to support all the local parents who wanted to set up that centre. That example illustrates how childcare centres in more disadvantaged areas have been able to draw in funding - at present from the fairer Scotland fund and previously from the community regeneration fund - to subsidise childcare to a greater extent. I am not saying that places in that childcare centre are cheap by any means, but they are a bit cheaper because of that subsidy.

I hope that the Government will also look to use funding streams such as the fairer Scotland fund to support childcare centres such as North Edinburgh Childcare, which I always very genuinely say is the best childcare centre in Scotland and which I think has received widespread recognition through several awards - indeed, it currently runs the Scottish Government crèche at Victoria Quay.

I think that my time is up, so I congratulate Jamie Hepburn once again on introducing this very timely and important debate.
September 22nd 2011