UNISON welcomes the Scottish government’s proposals to expand early learning and childcare. It is an important step in both tackling poverty and the attainment gap that harms children who live in poverty and our society as a whole. We need to make sure that we learn the lessons of the adult care sector where we now have a fragmented service, which is costly and hard for users to navigate, with varying quality of service and a race to the bottom for staff terms and conditions.
The private sector is already struggling to deliver childcare. There is little scope for them to pay the living wage and pension contributions, far less the pay required to retain qualified staff over a long-term and make a profit. The recent Nesta report Innovation in Childcare (Jill Ritter July 2016) states that “profit margins are tight for many providers”. So tight are they that the “innovation” they offer as a route forward is to use unpaid volunteers and parents to presumably to maintain profit margins.
UNISON is particularly concerned that the government is considering voucher type schemes or extra funding for the private sector. Not only does this have a high risk of creating a service based on low paid and unqualified staff it risks creating a two tier system where those who can afford to pay more on top of the vouchers will have access to better nurseries than those on low incomes. Vouchers also add extra complexity and administrative costs to the system. Vouchers will do the opposite of closing the attainment gap.
Public delivery is the most cost-effective way forward: money won’t be lost to profit, and is where we will be best able to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive service. Public delivery also makes is easier to ensure that the workforce is properly paid and well qualified. Public delivery also gives better protection to childcare workers who need all the same rights and opportunities, for example flexible working, as other workers. Good terms and conditions are how you attract and keep skilled workers. The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation programme paper: Creating and Anti-poverty Childcare System states that a shift to supply side funding for pre-school childcare services is the most effective route forward