Margaret Horn 2016: The London Childcare Challenge
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Every year during the November Global Enterprise Fortnight we host the Margaret Horn Debate to celebrate Social Enterprise Day. Margaret Horn was the first director of the charity that in 2008 become the social enterprise London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). I know very little about her, (despite our research) but I do know that she was a pupil of Octavia Hill, a woman I have always admired for her energy, ambition and social enterprise.
Last year we debated the importance of businesses being family friendly and it was a very popular theme and so therefore it seemed logical to continue the debate especially as we have a new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan who seems much more in touch with what needs to happen to support Londoners live well and work successfully. Certainly, during a visit to a LEYF nursery, our Mayor demonstrated a greater grasp that childcare is a crucial part of our city's infrastructure, helping parents to work, improving children's educational outcomes and helping narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.
London has a lot of childcare challenges particularly if it is to provide the range of places. available to meet the number needed to put the number of children of children across our very diverse city. We need to have sufficient staff to run the nurseries and provide the best service to all our children. This is tricky as nurseries receive insufficient government funding which is sorely felt in an expensive city where childcare costs are on average 23 per cent higher than the rest of England. At LEYF we subsidise nearly 48 per cent of places but that can't be sustained given the increasing living costs and the difficulty of recruiting staff who can no longer afford to live in the city where housing costs are around 50 per cent higher than the rest of the UK and transport costs overwhelming. I won't comment on Southern, my local rail operator, just feel my pain.
When it comes to child poverty, 700,000 children living in London are below the poverty line, that is 37 per cent of all children compared to 26 per cent across the UK. Children in London are much more likely to live in poverty with 14 out of the top 20 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty across the UK. Half of 0- to 19-year-olds in London (1.1. million) live in a family that receives tax credits; 640,000 children benefit from in-work tax credits. Poor children in London are less likely to be able to afford everyday items than those elsewhere in the country.
We need sufficient providers running sustainable services to offer the 15 funded hours childcare to local families, the Two Year Old offer as well as children with learning needs and disabilities. That's problematic as property costs in the city are exorbitant and there is no London funding for capital expenditure. In a Huffington Post blog, I wrote in March this year, I raised the difficulties childcare providers face in London trying to keep childcare fees affordable when the government subsidy still only meets half the cost of a place? I also commented on one of the many unintended consequences of poorly drafted government policies which is resulting in the emergence of two-tier services with separate provision for those children on the ‘free offer'.
Finally, there also needs to be a bigger conversation with parents and the public about a wide range of issues such as what education for small children looks like in different settings, what that means for their children, limiting early and unnecessary transition to school and understanding why community nurseries are a good thing for children in London because they help create social capital by building local networks, reducing loneliness and nurturing community spirit.
This is a flavour of this year's debate. Join us for a lively discussion and debate with the London Deputy Mayor for Childcare Joanne McCartney alongside a panel of colleagues, about how we can address the London Childcare Challenge together.
Sign up below for the Margaret Horn Debate on 10 November, 17.00 at the BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street (closest tube, St Pauls).
June O'Sullivan is managing director of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website