Meghan Gallacher, Willie Rennie and Humza Yousaf – questions on childcare costs.
By Bill Heaney
Working parents are having to give up their jobs due to soaring childcare costs, the Scottish Parliament was told today.
Meghan Gallacher, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservative group in the Scottish Parliament, was given an assurance by First Minister Humza Yousaf that the government was dealing with the matter.
He told her: “Early learning and childcare plays a crucial role not only in children’s development but in helping parents, particularly mums, to return to work.
“Our current offer is, of course, the most generous in the United Kingdom, with all three and four-year-olds and around a quarter of two-year-olds entitled to 1,140 hours of childcare each year.
“Independent research shows that 88 per cent—almost nine in 10—of parents with a three to five-year-old were satisfied that they could access childcare in a way that meets their specific needs.
“However, I recognise that we have to go further to support more parents to find or, indeed, stay in work.
“That is why, in the programme for government, I set out my plans to improve and expand the childcare offer and work with our partners to help 13,000 more children and families access that childcare by the end of this Parliament.”
Meghan Gallacher, who is the mother of a young child herself, replied: “Childcare costs are one reason why so many women choose not to start a family.
“Families with children are having to cut down on essential items because they cannot afford to work and pay for childcare.
“That is why the roll-out of free childcare is so important. It is not a luxury but a tool to get parents into work and our economy moving.
“Given that the Scottish Government has not announced anything on childcare since the programme for government, how will he reassure women that they will not end up pregnant then screwed by this Government?”
The First Minister replied: “The programme for government was, of course, just last month. I am more than happy to provide an update to Meghan Gallacher as we make substantial progress.
“In Scotland, we have the most generous childcare offer in the UK.
“One of the important points that I mentioned in my programme for government is the sustainability of the private, voluntary and independent sector.
“Scotland is the only part of the UK to pay staff who are delivering funded ELC the real living wage.
“We are committed to providing the necessary funding to increase pay to £12 an hour for staff who deliver funded ELC provision in the private, voluntary and independent sector.
“We are investing in that most-generous childcare offer, and I am sure that other Governments in the UK might want to follow Scotland’s lead.”
Labour’s Martin Whitfield said: “The First Minister will be aware that the data that was produced by the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign is damning.
“Does he share the confidence that the Scottish Government ministers have that the private sector childcare nursery model is still viable, even with the proposed Scottish Government funding?”
The First Minister said he had seen Pregnant Then Screwed and thanked the authors for the information that it provided.
He added: “That is why I was keen to put on record that we recognise that there are challenges, particularly in the PVI sector.
“We all recognise that in our conversations with the private, voluntary and independent sector. That is why we will be providing funding to increase pay to £12 an hour for staff who deliver ELC provision.
“Independent research—I stress the word “independent”—shows that 88 per cent of parents with a three to five-year-old were satisfied that they could access childcare in a way that meets their needs.
“However, I recognise the point that the member raises about the sustainability of the sector, and that is why I am absolutely committed to working with the PVI sector to ensure that we have a sustainable ELC provision.”
LibDem deputy leader Willie Rennie said: “I am afraid that what the Government has done so far on the PVI sector is not enough.
“The First Minister knows that there is an exodus of experienced staff from the private, voluntary and independent sector.
“He cannot do just the £12-an-hour living wage. He needs to increase the fee rates, or we will have a sector that is just not sustainable. He promised to do that in the leadership contest. Is he going to deliver?
The First Minister assured him: “Again, we will update the Parliament on our plans around the budget in due course at the end of this year.
“It is fair to say that the overall capacity across the whole childcare sector, in terms of the number of registered places, remained stable between March 2020 and March 2023. We know from the delivery data that we collect from councils specifically that the number of hours that services offer has increased.
“However, I take the point that there are challenges around the sustainability of childcare. That is why we will continue to invest in childcare to ensure that we have the most generous offer anywhere in the UK.”