Lucy Powell, Labour’s new shadow childcare minister, was last weekend branded one of Britain’s laziest politicians by The Sun, which failed to take account of her recent maternity leave in analysing how often MPs voted. As someone who has a baby the same age as Ms Powell’s, and is still knee-deep in nappies while she’s back at work, I’d say she deserves not criticism but a medal. Particularly given that one of her first outings in her new job was to deliver an insightful speech calling for better, affordable childcare but also insisting that attitudes to working mums have to change before the dilemma of how to juggle career and family can be resolved. “Far from being scatty and clock-watching…we are highly productive at work because we have to be,” she said.
Until we stop assuming that working mums are not fully committed to either part of that title, and equating professional dedication with hours spent in an office, we’ll get nowhere. Politicians can’t do that for us, but they can help, and it seems like all sides are finally realising how important childcare is to millions.
The Coalition has made some useful (if insufficient) steps on free hours and tax relief, and is now calling for school nurseries to open later. Labour has upped the ante, promising 25 free hours and considering major commitments like universal free care for pre-schoolers and a children’s centre in every neighbourhood (a report out yesterday showed that 515 of these invaluable centres have closed since 2010). Childcare looks set to be a central issue of the 2015 election.
I will be a full-time working journo-mum by then, and look forward to covering the battle.