Baroness Kath Pinnock: Childcare Bill must focus on impact on children’s lives

Kath PinnockThe Childcare Bill had its Second Reading in the Lords yesterday. Liberal Democrat peer Kath Pinnock, in her first major speech in her new role as spokesperson for Children, outlined her concerns with it. Her long experience in local government gives her an understanding of how these things work and who has to organise them that many MPs will not have. She also made a very important point. The Conservatives often talk about childcare as being a mechanism to get women back to work without looking at either the practicalities for the women concerned or the impact of the lives of their children. She argued that the Bill must address more than the economic argument.

She also gets that often women work in low paid, unstable jobs either early in the morning or outside school hours and the system needs to be flexible enough to cope with that. She also outlines the cost of childcare in the school holidays, particularly the Summer.

The House of Lords will be particularly important in this Parliament as the Government does not have a majority there. They have a real opportunity to improve poor legislation.

Here’s Kath’s speech in full. 

My Lords, of course we welcome the basis of this Bill – the additional 15 hours a week free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds whose families are in work. However, the devil is in the detail of this particular offer and I have 4 broad areas of concern:

Funding – there must be sufficient allocated to cover costs for a high quality offer.

Flexibility – to really help working families there must be flexibility built in to the offer.

Focus – of any childcare provision must be primarily for the benefit of the child.

Fairness – this provision must be of equal benefit to low income as to higher income families.

I want to expand on each of these issues.


One of the key concerns is that the Government provide adequate levels of funding for the scheme. On this, sadly, the Bill is silent. However, we do know that the manifesto commitment was for an additional £350m. I hope that this is one manifesto pledge that will be broken! Even combined with estimated lower demand for the Tax Free Childcare and a transfer of those savings, the scheme appears to be grossly underfunded.

This potentially underfunded proposal is then subject to the unfair vagaries of the Early Years funding element of the Local Government Grant. The consequence is that some Council areas will have a double hit of a combination of an inadequate funding package that is then unfairly divided. This leads to private providers making up for losses incurred on the free offer by charging highly inflated rates for hours outside of the scheme. One parent has told me that he pays £8.36 an hour for these extra hours for a non-London nursery.

The Government is undertaking a Funding Review which may report before the end of the year. However, that does not help us in our consideration of the Bill or, more to the point, the parents and children who will want to know what quality of childcare will be provided.


The needs of parents and carers who are working are many and varied. Many women particularly often have 2, 3 or even 4 short hour jobs in cleaning and catering. Their needs are often for childcare to meet early morning shift working and for after school cleaning jobs. Often jobs in this area of the labour market are unstable both in terms of hours worked and in length of contract. So having a flexible offer is vital for both the child and the parent.

And then there is the constant pressure on parents to find childcare in the school holidays. This can be very expensive. One mother of 3 children has told me that it costs her £2,000 in childcare during the 6 week school holiday. Even with the Tax Free Childcare her costs will be £1,600. I have asked parents to let me know their comments. They have said that being able to spread the 30 hours per week over 52 weeks rather than the 38 week school year would be of enormous benefit.


Then I have considerable concerns about the focus of the Bill which seems to me to be focussed on providing the means to encourage more women into the workforce. That in itself may be a laudable aim. However, this is children’s lives we are dealing with here and the primary focus of attention must be the impact on their lives not just an economic argument about the labour market.

I urge the Government to make adjustments to the Bill so that it becomes child-centred. Making that change would change the thrust of the debate towards focussing on the quality and type of provision. We know that poor quality childcare can actually damage a child’s development. An underfunded scheme may well result in lower quality. Yet, the thrust of any childcare provision especially that funded by the Government must surely be to provide care of the highest quality.

Focussing on the needs of children would force consideration of the effect of 30 hours in an institutional setting and thinking about the potential benefits of the childcare being shared between different providers.

And wrap around care also needs to be thought through. A parent who may well need care from say 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening will need more than provision that is just school based. Private providers are understandably reluctant to just provide care for an hour or so each side of the school day. It doesn’t add up to a successful business model.

I hope the Minister will be able to give us categoric assurances that the Bill will put the needs of the child first and foremost.


And fairness needs to be at the heart of this Bill and I am not convinced that it is. Fairness to parents trying to juggle work and parental responsibilities when they are in jobs that may last only a few months. Fairness in defining the eligibility so that parents in education or training also qualify. Fairness to the child in ensuring that the free childcare is of a high quality. Fairness for children with disabilities and from dysfunctional families by actively encouraging their take up of the offer which is adjusted to meet their specific needs.

It is, therefore, only when we see the detailed regulation and funding package will we be able to be certain that this measure will be positive both for children and their carers.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • This really is an excellent speech.
    Why are there not more people like Kath Pinnock in Parliament?

    If people read nothing else today they should read this.

    In particular —
    “…Then I have considerable concerns about the focus of the Bill which seems to me to be focussed on providing the means to encourage more women into the workforce. That in itself may be a laudable aim.
    However, this is children’s lives we are dealing with here and the primary focus of attention must be the impact on their lives not just an economic argument about the labour market.”

  • Absolutely right that we need a child-centred approach to childcare. Children are not in a position to make many choices about their lives and rely on adults to make sound and caring decisions on their behalf. What about their rights? Who asks them how they feel? What if our starting point is an evidence-based approach to what childcare actually works best for 0-5 year olds and we work around that? I think the key is more flexibility on the part of employers. Children are society’s future and it our duty to look after them well and reduce the stress for often overworked parents..

  • @Judy Abel it always strikes me that childcare is a sort of sticking plaster solution for a problem – massive societal changes – that needs a holistic approach.

    We have a school system that hasn’t changed since the days when most households with children had two parents (one male, one female) and one income-earner (usually male).

    The situation now is that in many two-parent households, both parents work (at least part time) and that there are a significant minority of single parent households, often with no income-earner at all.

    The school system, statutory paternity arrangements and presumption of prime parent-hood are stuck in the 1950s whereas society has moved on 60 years in the interim without the childcare system catching up, or some sort of acknowledgement of the reality of people’s lives.

    The other thing to realise is that the childless are ultimately the beneficiaries of the labour output of other people’s children, yet they bear little of the cost of their upbringing.

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