The harsh economic facts of recession-hit Britain have meant that many young families simply cannot afford for both parents to work. Faced with paying some of the highest childcare costs in the world, new mothers soon realise that there is simply no economic incentive for them to take part-time or low-paid work.
The fact that today’s Budget will contain action to remedy this should therefore provide long-awaited relief, even though the new measures will not come into force until the autumn of 2015 and even then will only offer to subsidise childcare for the under-fives.
There must also be deep concerns over the fairness of a scheme that would provide childcare vouchers for working couples with a joint income of £150,000-a-year, but offer nothing to households on lower incomes where one parent opts to stay at home.
Indeed, apart from the sheer financial inequity of such a situation, there are also more far-reaching social implications.
For this is a Government that continues to endorse the value of bringing children up in stable family environments yet persistently refuses to provide any economic incentive for parents to do so. A policy billed as offering parents choice seems to have been designed with the explicit purpose of removing parents’ options should that choice actually be for a father or mother to stay at home.
The flexibility that the new childcare subsidy would give to parents wanting to enter the workforce is welcome indeed. But in effectively offering a disincentive to parents who might actually want to spend time with their own children, it can hardly be described as family-friendly.