Childcare is key to reducing inequality

Date: 15th November 2016
Category: Social security

New research by Heriot Watt University suggests that improved childcare is the single most effective policy in reducing income inequalities.

That could be allied to closing the gap between women's and men's pay, and finding ways to help families remain together. Raising the minimum wage and linking benefits to inflation is also seen as effective. A boost to the regions and nations of Britain would also have an impact. This would, according to the research, spread prosperity more evenly around the UK. However, the research found that increases in part-time pay, encouragement to take up unclaimed benefits, and efforts to increase housing supply had less effect on inequality.

Wide differences remain between the earning power of those at the high earning end of the scale and those at the bottom. The most recent figures show the top 1% of earners received more than 9% of the nation's total pay. The 2014-15 Scotland statistics show that per week, this comes to £264 and £881 respectively.

The findings of the Heriot-Watt research point to support for women at the lower-paid end of the workforce being particularly effective in addressing inequality. That reflects the fact that poor households are often female-headed.

Childcare was found to have the biggest impact of any single policy because it would enable parents to work or to work longer hours, as well as the impact that quality childcare can have on helping children develop.

The Heriot-Watt research was led by Prof Glen Bramley. He said: "The report looks at around 40 individual policy or contextual scenarios as well as combined packages. Most of these make some difference, but in quite a number of cases this is small or ambiguous in terms of effects on different poverty outcomes. A smaller number of policies make a sizeable difference. There is no single magic bullet, and to make large inroads into poverty would require concerted action on a number of fronts."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said high quality early learning and childcare plays a vital role in narrowing the attainment gap and stated that, "No other policy has such potential to change the lives of children and their families while improving the prospects of Scotland's economy in the short and long term."

The spokeswoman also highlighted recent changes to childcare provision made by the Scottish Government stating that, "Increasing the number of funded hours for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds from 600 hours to 1,140 hours is our most transformative infrastructure project."

UN Committee Recommendations

In June 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued the following recommendation to the UK state party:

"The Committee recommends that the State party and the devolved governments conduct a rigorous child rights impact assessment of the recent reduction of funding for childcare and family support and adjust the family support policy in order to make childcare services available to all those who need it."

Together have reported on this recommendation in a Scotland-specific context in its newly-published State of Children's Rights report 2016.