Professor Richard Wyn Jones is Director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. He is an expert on devolved politics and is one of the co-authors of the newly published IPPR report England’s Two Union: And Anatomy of a Nation and its Discontents. He is happy to confirm the suspicion that he is, indeed, Welsh.
Conservatives may have enjoyed the obvious discomfort of the BBC when it was forced to admit last week that it had failed to give due prominence to concerns about very high levels immigration into the UK because public attitudes were not consistent with the “liberal bias” of corporation programme makers.
But it is not only liberals, or socialists for that matter, that can find some public attitudes so challenging to their own biases and preconceptions that they find it easier to ignore them. Perhaps the most glaring example in contemporary British politics is attitudes to the anomalous – and, in English eyes, iniquitous – position of England within the post-devolution United Kingdom. When it comes to England, with very few exceptions, the British political class as a whole seem to find denial or displacement much easier than serious engagement.
Dalia Ben-Galim is IPPR’s Associate Director for Family, Community and Work. She joined IPPR after teaching social policy at Oxford University and carrying out research at the LSE.
Despite the speculation, the government’s mid-term review was surprisingly silent on childcare. Rumours suggest that there is a Yellow-Blue battle raging in government about the new childcare support package with details yet to be agreed. Conservatives tend to favour tax relief and the talk is of new childcare tax allowances of up to £2000. But tax relief tends to be regressive, with the winners likely to be middle class families with two or more children with high childcare costs. With many poorer working families hurting from welfare changes, Nick Clegg is apparently trying to skew any new support towards those on low and middle incomes. Next week we will know if he has been successful.
Liz Truss, the Childcare Minister, sidesteps that part of the debate in her ConservativeHome blog from yesterday on childcare reform. Truss’ claims are consistent and well known; public funding for childcare is complex; child-to-adult ratios in England are stifling for childminders; and regulation is burdensome. But her initial emphasis on recent Dutch reforms seems to be wavering – perhaps influenced by IPPR’s report pointing out their flaws – and has shifted towards the French system. This is to be welcomed as there is much to learn from French provision, but again it’s important to understand the limits of comparing childcare systems, given the different contexts.
The French have a long history of pro-natalist family policy with relatively generous paid parental leave and home care subsidies. This means that nearly two thirds of children aged under three are cared for by their parents. Licensed family childcare assistants only look after some 18 per cent of under-threes at home, and they typically care for one to three children at a time, although they can now look after four children by law. Only in crèches, which cater for 8 per cent of under-twos, is a higher 5:1 ratio permitted. In addition, 35 per cent of two-year-olds – usually children from low-income families – are in nursery schools (écoles maternelles), a figure which rises to 90 per cent for three-year-olds, where ratios are much higher. So the comparison with France does shed light on a different system from which the UK can learn, but it is misleading to infer from it that looser ratios for childminders have much if any impact on childcare costs, since the proportion of under 5s for whom they cater is small.