Holyrood is correct to focus on the Scottish Government’s recent record on childcare provision. It was not that long ago that Scotland was lagging behind the UK in childcare provision and Alex Salmond was telling Scots that investing in it was not worthwhile as some of any extra tax generated by parents may go to Westminster. Indeed, this was a great example of where the nationalist ideology has come before improving social justice in Scotland.
Although the childcare debate has moved on, I am disappointed that most of it has recently focussed on how parents can access the 600 hours of provision the SNP have promised. Important as that may be, we need to consider how we may better use childcare as a tool to reduce inequality in Scotland.
Rather than focussing on providing everyone with a minimum universal childcare provision, we need our Holyrood masters to invest extra resources in our deprived neighbourhoods and to support parents who are struggling on low incomes. After all, it is high childcare costs that force people on low incomes out of work, into food banks and, even worse, into the hands of pay-day lenders.
Furthermore, we also need to stop viewing state provided childcare as a glorified babysitter and focus on its key benefit – pre-school education which is a valuable stepping-stone between the home and school. Every study which has sought to understand how the attainment gap between rich and poor students can be reduced has concluded that pre-school education is key. We must act on this. We must provide every child with a universal minimum, but also target additional resources where, and when, they are needed most.
The Scottish Government must start taking childcare seriously as a tool to tackle inequality and attainment. It is simply not good enough for them to cut council budgets and then blame them for failings in service provision.