Shelagh Fogarty: You can't be a government that's serious about growth if you can't get childcare right

11 November 2022, 17:00

Melissa Fleur Afshar

By Melissa Fleur Afshar

Shelagh Fogarty and Pregnant Then Screwed's Lauren Fabianski unite in their upset at how the government is failing parents by planning to slash spending on childcare.

If the govt is serious about growth, they must get childcare right

While the cost of living crisis and the energy crisis rage on, the government has planned to cut its spending on free childcare for young children in England by 8% over the next two years. This is according to findings by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Shelagh Fogarty has described the early years sector as being both crucial in "embedding and safeguarding a child's future" and "something of a forgotten sector" that is already lacking in financial investment.

The IFS also revealed that government spending on subsidies for parents on benefits had fallen "sharply" over the past decade.

Equally concerned by the forecast, Shelagh and Lauren Fabianski, Campaigns and Communications Manager at Pregnant Then Screwed discuss how the situation could unravel.

Pregnant Then Screwed is a British charity dedicated to establishing better maternity and childcare conditions and supporting new mothers amid financial instability.

"You can't be described as a government that's serious about growth if you can't get childcare right, and at the moment we just don't have childcare right," said Shelagh.

"[According to the Early Years Alliance] 4,000 nurseries and childminder services have closed in the past year."

In an exchange with Shelagh, Ms Fabianski shared insights from The Women's Budget Group that 1.7 million women had been prevented from taking on extra work as a result of childcare commitments.

"We can't talk about growth and levelling up the economy when women want to work but they can't," said Ms Fabianski.

Pregnant Then Screwed recently held a protest against the government's spending cuts, which occurred simultaneously in 11 cities across the nation. The group's central protest took place in London, tracing Trafalgar to Parliament Square.

In total, 15,000 families attended and for 64% of those families, the event was their first protest, a figure that Ms Fabianski cited as being key for the government to take notice of.

"For 64% of the families that attended, it was their first protest," said Ms Fabianski.

"This is an issue that's really resonating with people that have not necessarily been politically active before, and so it's important that the government pay attention to this."

It was at this moment that Shelagh was reminded of her personal life, and she shared with Ms Fabianski that when her friends and family members had children it became "an assumption [between themselves] that their salaries would be swallowed whole by childcare if they went back to work."

Ms Fabianski was quick to respond that although years may have passed, "not much has changed".

READ MORE: Complaining about childcare costs is ‘demeaning’, says childminder

"People cannot afford while they have small children or even as they get older to have less money right now, it's important for women to be economically empowered and to participate in the workplace."

Another issue that Shelagh and Ms Fabianski discussed was the challenge that parents face of finding accessible childcare that's reasonably close to home.

These longer distances inevitably create further difficulties for parents who are intending to return to work.

"[Going back to work] becomes unrealistic," said Ms Fabianski.

"[That's all because] we haven't really embedded a flexible working culture in this country."

On top of these existing strains, as energy and food bills skyrocket, the likelihood of more nurseries closing their doors increases.

READ MORE: Parents could get cash handouts in govt plans to tackle sky-high childcare costs

"Nurseries are struggling to stay open," said Ms Fabianski. "They're crying out for help, and it's because of government underfunding."

The two then discussed controversies surrounding the government's recently unveiled '30 hours free' scheme, which is applicable to children over the age of three.

Ms Fabianski told Shelagh that a recent Freedom of Information request into the bill discovered that the government were aware that they would be underfunding this area, even before they decided to cut the allocated spending on it.

"A Freedom of Information Request was submitted for the minutes of the meeting where the '30 hour free' scheme came to light, and in that meeting they [the government] acknowledged that this was going to happen, that they were underfunding it [the idea], that this would push prices up for parents, and that some parents would no longer be able to work," said Ms Fabianski.

Ms Fabianski then shared with Shelagh that multiple Pregnant Then Screwed protesters had sent impassioned letters to their MPs, only to receive similar template responses back, all bearing the same line that the government invest a certain figure into childcare.

The two then discussed how if the government retract funding into childcare services, parents would inevitably be pushed into paying more for the same services to subsidise costs.

"As costs for the heating and food of these nurseries go up, women are being pushed out of the workforce [due to childcare commitments]," said Ms Fabianski.

"It is going to make child poverty and the poverty attainment gap much worse".

A recent Pregnant Then Screwed survey of 20,000 families with children aged five or under found that many have cut down on food, clothing, and housing in substitute for childcare.

As it stands, the UK government invests below the average into childcare in comparison to other nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

"Good quality, affordable, accessible childcare is infrastructure," said Ms Fabianski.

"It's essential for that to exist for families to be able to work and to not fall into poverty."