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Saturday, 17 August 2013 00:00

Britain's children deserve better

by Siobhan Endean

The need for better childcare

I have survived week three of the school summer holidays by selecting my holiday read list.

I stress it is only a wish list. I aim to revisit great feminist tomes and top of the list is Frankenstein, quickly followed by A Room of One's Own, and to finish, Mad Woman in the Attic.

I will take a holiday at home with my son and his friends as we share the childcare load with the other mums in the area.

I now get paid holidays from work, thanks to the last Labour government, and I am lucky enough to have an employer. In our home, politicians are very definitely not all the same.

I think it's worth mentioning the impact of government policy on our kids.

Family tax credits, the maternity grant and child benefit have been cut.

Our Sure Start centres and libraries are closing and our local park wardens have been sacked.

Mums are losing their jobs, having their hours cut or taking lower-paid insecure work and can't afford the extortionate cost of childcare.

Social cleansing is taking place as the benefits cap takes effect and our friends can no longer afford to live in their homes or even the same community.

The cumulative impact of the cuts mean that my child is bearing the brunt of their austerity measures and Britain's overall child poverty is on the rise.

I occasionally consider how much better government would be if children were the put in charge.

Comic books would be a right not a privilege, there would be 24-hour play dates on demand and Coco Pops would be free at the point of delivery.

I'm sure my son could add a few items to the list, but funding for libraries, community childcare, breakfast clubs in all schools and free school meals would be a good start to meeting his political demands.

All children are equal. They cry the same tears when they fall down.

Good-quality community childcare gives all children a fair start in life. That's why Sure Start is so popular with middle-class mums too.

The Tory Party believes that strong and stable families are the bedrock of a strong and stable society.

The Tories may be savvy enough to have stopped saying they blame single mothers for the breakdown of communities and raising "hoodies" but we are well aware that is what they mean.

They are playing dog whistle politics by dividing society into strivers and skivers, but it has no resonance in the real world.

The truth is that this government has broken my son's community, wrenched him from his friends and taken away his places to play.

The last Labour government recognised that to tackle child poverty, mothers need enough money in their purse and a framework of childcare support.

The national minimum wage, tax credits sure start, free childcare for three and four-year-olds and maternity leave and pay went some way towards this.

Labour looks to the missing women's vote. It now needs to rebuild our trust.

We want a Labour Party that is prepared to speak up for us. We don't accept the cuts. We want Labour to speak the truth - that the government's cuts agenda is breaking our communities and local economies and our children are paying the price.

The next Labour manifesto needs to set out how families of all types, sizes and make-up are indeed the bedrock of society, but also the bedrock of the economy.

We need to know that a Labour government would tackle employers operating on the edge, making a profit from poverty wages and failing to invest for the long term.

Labour needs to create confidence that there will be a childcare infrastructure that parents will want their children to be part of, and a welfare system which will step in to support us if we are out of work.

We want the right to organise in a union and assert our own rights to secure employment, with an end to zero-hours contracts, a living wage and the chance of a decent job with a pension.

If we can use and develop our skills, we will rebuild the economy and rebuild our communities.

If there is one thing the Labour Party should promise in its key pledges for its next manifesto, it's a commitment to the provision of high-quality childcare services in every community, not because it's good for the employability of women, good for the economy or because it's good for families but because it's good for children.

As Mary Shelley said and my son would agree, "A slavish bondage to parents cramps every faculty of the mind."

Siobhan Endean is Unite national officer for equalities

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