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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 02:58 GMT
Childcare 'benefits family and economy'
Nursery scene
The report says there is not enough childcare provision
The provision of adequate childcare services is being hampered by bureaucracy and a failure to generate an entrepreneurial spirit, researchers say.

Few commercial providers have responded to the increased demand from working parents and more must be done to attract business investment into the sector, the report by the think-tank Demos and Genderquake says.

Childcare can become not just a solution for working parents, but a huge growth sector of the economy

Helen Wilkinson, report author
The resulting lack of childcare provision means parents will be forced to "stitch together" ever more complicated and precarious care arrangements for their children, the report says.

The childcare "squeeze" is made worse by the fact that families are increasingly operating a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week timetable, while childcare tends to be a 9 to 5 service.

"A 21st Century, dynamic, egalitarian economy needs a childcare infrastructure as much as a transport infrastructure," said Helen Wilkinson, author of the Creche Barriers report.

"Childcare can become not just a solution for working parents, allowing them to work productively, but a huge growth sector of the economy," Ms Wilkinson said.

"Childcare is good for kids, families and the economy."

Widespread rewards

Ms Wilkinson - who is not a mother herself - said it was not just parents who reaped the rewards of an effective childcare structure.

"I benefit from these things too - I'm able to work in a diverse workforce, rather than one from which many people are excluded," she said.

Child with piggy bank
Childcare is often expensive and in short supply
While there was no doubt of the political commitment for change, there were still problems of delivery on the ground, Ms Wilkinson said.

"The main losers are working parents - they're the one's stitching together precarious childcare arrangements.

"Also low-income families - for whom childcare is still not affordable and still not available - can't go back to work."

According to a recent survey by the Daycare Trust, a nursery place for a two-year-old in the UK costs on average 5,700 a year - unaffordable for many low-income families.

The Creche Barriers report recommends creating a national childcare agency to encourage public/private partnership and a fund to attract investment into expanding provision.

The report suggests there should be tax breaks for employers to invest in employee and community childcare provision.

And it advocates a recruitment campaign to encourage more men to get involved in the sector - currently only 5% of playworkers and less than 1% of nursery nurses are male, the report says.

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