Tory MP Claire Perry has clashed with a social policy expert in a World at One radio debate on government plans to deregulate childcare services as part of its welfare reforms due to come into force in October along with tax credit changes.
She attacked the Labour government’s too costly promotion of Sure Start Centres – the centre in Marlborough has lost its Wiltshire Council funding – because they drove up the cost of childcare through the tax and benefits system.
And she claimed in the Radio 4 programme yesterday (Tuesday) they resulted in half the child minders leaving the market.
“We have an expensive and inefficient system right now and instead of arguing we should be working together to fix it,” she told Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research and a former No 10 adviser.
But he replied that minders of primary school-age children had left the system because schools had set up their own after school clubs and parents preferred to leave them instead of picking them up at 3.30pm and taking them elsewhere.
Parents preferred Sure Start Centres created from models started in Norway and Sweden, which provided all communities with good childcare facilities.
“Sixty per cent of the staff in them have qualifications to degree level, here it is about eight per cent,” he pointed out. “So the really big issue for us is: Can we get affordable childcare and can we make it universal? And can we also ensure that it is really high quality?”
“But I don’t think the deregulation, market-based approach of Claire and others proffer will really get us to that point.”
Mrs Perry, who has three children, responded: “You did say in your report that the childcare system we have inherited is expensive, inefficient, of low quality, confusing and variable. So I think we can probably agree we have got some work to do to fix it.”
Mr Pearce replied: “The childminders own professional body says they don’t want deregulation. They want high standard, professional childminders.”
Mrs Perry interjected: “Yes, we all want that too but we want deregulation of ratios (of children to minders) to Danish levels, the Danish ratios are even looser than British ratios.”
Then Mr Pearce butted in: “No, 60 per cent of its people are qualified to degree level. So deregulation is not the answer. The key thing here is Do parents not want to send their children to children centres, the case you are making is that they don’t want to. That’s just not true.”
Mrs Perry: “I disagree completely. As you get out of London… in my constituency I have been involved with Play Schools, often again one that takes the Early Years vouchers, one of the four very complex funding streams.
“They provide really valuable support for parents who can’t access a fabulous Sure Start Centres and they have been run ragged by over-regulation and over bureaucracy. We have to solve this problem.”
In a final statement, Mr Pearce replied: “Well, I do get out of London to places where there are fantastic children’s centres, parents love them, they’re really high quality, their good for social mobility because children do really well in them, their great for employment as well.
“That is the path we should take.”