Make childcare affordable

6th April 2007 at 01:00
As recent comment has demonstrated, it is becoming obvious that children from the poorest families need access to enriching social and cultural experiences, which can be provided through after-school play and care activities - even basic experiences that many of us may take for granted.

I remember taking a busload of children to the seaside, and many had never been on a beach in their lives. Yes, it did bring a lump to my throat.

One of the biggest barriers to being able to work and earn a wage, even the lowest wage topped up by tax credits, is the availability and cost of childcare. Out-of-school childcare services are expected to charge fees to cover costs, on the basis that poorer families get tax credits to help with fees.

But that system is overly complex, which means out-of-school care services cannot make it on fees alone and struggle to survive. Many of these services have to close. Then there is no childcare and, if there is no childcare, how can parents work?

Until we have free and fully accessible play, care and learning services for all children, but especially for our most disadvantaged and excluded, how can we expect them, and their families, to escape the poverty trap? And how can we make their current daily lives better?

For such a rich country, it is to our everlasting shame we have so many children living in poverty. No one should be born to fail in this country, yet it is clear that many children are. We must help them now by investing in high-quality out-of-school play, care and learning opportunities, which link with health and social work. There should be extra support for children whose lives are made worse by family circumstances, such as drugs use and other health or social problems.

Universal, accessible childcare is one way to reach out to those children and include them in a caring society. They should not be left on the scrap heap.

Irene Audain

Scottish Out-of-School Care Network, Wellington Street, Glasgow

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