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Truss’ truncated childcare announcement highlights mid-term review weaknesses

29 January 2013

Controversial though her proposals to relax quotas for childminders and nursery staff may be, no-one disagrees with Liz Truss’ central mission to reduce the cost of childcare. The opposition know affordable childcare will form an important part of their 2015 offer, and have also been visiting countries such as Denmark to pick up some tips.

It’s also worth noting that Truss is only relaxing quotas in so far as childcare providers can take on one or two more children per staff member: a nursery worker will be allowed to look after four babies instead of three, and six under-fives rather than four. Similarly, a childminder will be able to look after two babies rather than one, and four under-fives, rather than three. Clearly each child brings a whole host of extra work, and Truss’ response to claims this will actually decrease standards is that childcare professionals will be better trained, better paid and better able to offer a higher standard of care, as in other European countries.


But where the real problem lies with this policy is that it was supposed to be part of the Mid-Term Review’s display of the two parties working well together. As has already been well-reported, the paint started to peel pretty early on this, with the childcare announcement – a personal priority for the Prime Minister – was delayed after squabbles in the Quad. Today’s announcement goes ahead without the tax break that was so heavily briefed ahead of the Mid-Term review. Initially there were reports that the Lib Dems had put their foot down on this because they didn’t want to back an initiative that supported middle-income families above those on low incomes. Truss said today:

‘I think it is the big thing, I think it’s so incredibly important, it hasn’t fizzled out. It is coming, it may be slightly longer in the gestation than would be ideal, but it is coming… the Coalition are agreed, we’re agreed, the Liberal Democrats are agreed. We all want to help working families.’

The minister seems confident that the Tories will get their way on this. But the question for the mid-term review, which was all about communicating a united coalition, was why so much was briefed before it was actually agreed? There was sufficient delay between the real mid-term point of the Coalition and the Downing Street mid-term launch at the start of January to hammer out differences. The announcement was briefed to journalists ahead of the mid-term review launch. But just days later it was delayed after a meeting of the Quad that week failed to reach an agreement.

There are inevitably going to be disagreements in a coalition: I’ve argued before that it’s healthy for parties to air their different positions before a policy is agreed. But the problem here is that a policy was detailed in pre-launch briefings, then delayed, and is now being partially announced, with more to come.

That’s not a show of Coalition unity, clearly, but it’s also not a show of the coalition parties hammering out their differences in a mature way as the policy had already in effect been announced before all parties had signed off on it. The mid-term review was supposed to move the two parties on from the summer squabbles over Lords reform. But poor planning and communications have made that far more difficult than it should have been.

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  • Gareth

    This sounds like one of the better proposals made by the Coalition (and I don’t often say that). My concern with the pre-announcement briefing is not so much that it shows disagreement within the Coalition; that is to be expected and is not necessarily unhealthy. My issue is with the frequent tendency for ministers to announce policies which haven’t been fully thought through. Policies are picked for being politically advantageous (or ‘difficult for Labour to respond to’), but fall apart because the detail has not been adequately addressed.

    The aborted Badger Cull is just one prominent example – “whoops – there are too many badgers to do it!” Would it not have been better to have found that out before proposing the policy? Chris Grayling’s comments shunning evidence based decision making worry me immensely: “sometimes you just have to believe in something and do it.” This government will have five years in office. I would rather it took a bit of time to get the details right than assumed that it ‘just knows’ what will work. Too much of what it has done so far has proved ineffective.

  • sarahsmith232

    apologies, this is completely off topic.
    i’m sure there was, only the other day, a piece on the Spectator about Canadian immigration. the Spectator is the only website where the search function doesn’t seem to work. it doesn’t seem to have a functioning key word association. weirdly, if i go into my history folder the Spectator is the only website which shows nothing listed.
    i now can’t find it.
    anyone got any suggestions? this is a constant with this publication.
    thanks, sorry to be a time waster from most’s point of view.

  • HJ777

    The woman’s surname is Truss. The childcare announcement ‘belongs’ to her.

    Therefore, it should say “Truss’s childcare announcement…”

    Note that there should be another letter ‘s’ after the apostrophe. The fact that the name Truss ends in the letter ‘s’ does not indicate that it is plural.

    • Glenn Ludlow

      Nonsense. The apostrophe shows possession. Truss’s and Truss’ are both correct.

      • HJ777

        Not so.

        If Truss’ is correct (as you claim) then how do you know whether it is a plural of Trus or singular Truss?

        You are confused by the fact that her surname just happens to end with an ‘s’. The apostrophe after the ‘s’ indicates that the ‘s’ implies a plural – which it clearly does not in this case.

        Here is the rule:

        If the ‘s’ on the end is there to indicate a plural, the apostrophe, indicating possession, comes after the ‘s’.

        If it is not a plural (whether or not the word/name ends in an ‘s’), then you add an apostrophe followed by ‘s’ to indicate possession (i.e. ‘s)

        Don’t believe me? Then I suggest that you say out loud ” Truss’ truncated childcare announcement…”. I guarantee that you will actually say “Truss’s truncated childcare announcement…” because the latter is correct.

        An illustration for you:

        i) Jenkin’s book (the book belonging to the person called Jenkin)
        ii) Jenkins’ book (the book belonging to the people – plural – called Jenkin)
        iii) Jenkins’s book (the book belonging to the person called Jenkins)

        All three have different meanings.

        • Daniel Maris

          It’s a convention, not a pronunciation guide.

  • Eddie

    Question: why should everyone (childless people, the poorest) pay taxes, so the government can then pay that money to very well off women and men, who own assets worth half a million plus, who earn £100k+, in child benefit, maternity ‘pay’ and now yet more subsidised childcare.
    I wouldn’t mind so much if they were honest and called it what it is: a bribe to appeal to women voters, esp the middle class women, a majority of whom have always voted Tory. Having said that, Labour and the rest are just as bad or worse.
    But really: why can’t we see benefits as the exception rather than the ‘rule’ or a ‘right’ and ‘entitlement’. People who own houses worth half a million and who earn £100k are NOT ‘in need’.
    The sooner we get back to a fair, just, means-tested system (and that means test should include all assets and property), the better.
    No good Ian Duncan Smith trying to reform the benefit system to stop the poor and idle scrounging, when the socalled middle-class property owning and breeding classes have their snouts buried deep in the same parasitic trough eh?
    Be consistent. There’s a dear…

    • Brian

      In reply to your question: Because there is market failure. People who should be working are staying at home to look after one or two children, while qualified childcare staff could look after five or six, due to the excessive cost of childcare. Stay at home care is therefore an extremely poor use of resources.

      It benefits the economy for people to avail of childcare and go back to work, ergo there is a clear economic benefit from subsidising childcare, ergo everyone benefits, including the childless taxpayers.

      The counter to your question might be: why should the state train nurses, teachers, classroom assistants etc. only for them to put their careers on hold to stay and home and look after children for several years?

      As you no doubt know, most people who benefit from such subsidies are not very well off. Means testing is good in principle, but unless you can think of an inexpensive and accurate method of valuing illiquid assets, which is highly unlikely, then your idea has no practical merit.

      • Eddie

        Not so. People should pay for their own children. That is the moral crux of the issue here.
        It is far better for small children if they mothers look after them – and indeed most research shows this. Children in the UK have rising rates of speech and behavioural problems, perhaps because they are dumped by their mothers onto au pairs who can barely speak English, chucked from pillar to post, so mummy can be a career woman.
        There are plenty of unemployed people out there. The idea we need more women to enter the employment market is absurd.
        Your idea has no practical merit, and is no doubt motivated by your own greed and self-interest; my recommendation would be a fair and just way of running society, and stopping all people (yes, even yummy mummys who sneer at benefit cheats) from spongeing off other people’s money that they do not need or deserve.
        People who are millionaires are getting massive maternity pay subsidy and childcare subsidy too; people I know who own houses worth £700k get it to, with an income of £150k and assets of half a million. That is wrong. They should be nothing from my taxes – other than the subsidy they already get for health and education.

        • Brian

          Eddie, as well as the unnecessary and inaccurate personal attack on me, your argument contains a string of logical fallacies, and borders on misogyny in its characterisation of working mothers.
          I agree with your point on benefits for the rich, but there is a valid reason these benefits aren’t means tested i.e. because the associated bureaucracy would cost more than the cash saving. Using this as an argument for no subsidy for childcare is a nonsense.

          Furthermore, I don’t see the arguments for differentiating between subsidised education and subsidised childcare – surely you should be equally exercised at the prospect of subsidising the education of rich children.

          • Eddie

            Means testing is fair. It does not matter if the costs equal the savings. Fairness is what matters.
            I resent deeply the payments made to very well off property owning mothers (and fathers in effect) with maternity pay linked to income, and now childcare freebies.
            Someone will have to pay for all this, so poor people will. That is deeply unfair.
            Let’s face it, it’s just a bribe to get women’s votes. It is not right or fair.
            Plenty of qualified people out of the employment market – I and many other non-teachers are qualified and trained teachers, for example. That’s life. We do other and better things.
            Maybe we should try and encourage women to stay home with their babies and young children; then we can encourage men to take the jobs they vacate. So instead of a family with 2 un or underemployed parents, and another with 2 overworking parents on high incomes, each family can have one person in a decent job and one parent at home. No need for dumping babies with au pairs then, eh?

            • Brian

              Fairness is an arguable point, depending on your ideology. Communism is arguably fair. Pure market capitalism is also arguably fair. That’s what makes it a useful term for politicians to bandy around to attempt to gain public support, and a useless term on which to attempt to base a reasoned argument.

              • Eddie

                Fairness defined as giving benefits ONLY according to need. That would be generally seen as fair.
                Giving millionaires state benefits would not be seen as fair by many.
                That has nothing to do with political ideology, but just with a sense of fairness – that benefits are meant to be a safety net and not a bribe or a tax rebate or something everyone gets irrespective of how wealthy they are and how many houses they own.
                Our benefit mentality has got completelt out of hand – and it seems everyone of all classes thinks they are entitled to cashback from the state, no matter what (and especially parents who are subsidised by the childless).
                I just make a plea for a return to a need-based system, and that would slash the governments benefits bill, for sure.

            • HJ777

              The problem with means testing (other than the administrative cost) is that it destroys incentives for the individual to improve their own lot.

              We have seen this in the benefits system generally – many poorer people face effective marginal tax rates of over 70% due to the combined effects of income tax and benefit withdrawal as their earned income rises. This traps many people in the benefits system – how is that fair?

              • Eddie

                Surely, the problem with overly generous benefits is that they destroys incentives for the individual to improve their own lot.
                It’s not as if people don’t get loads of freebies anyway: free healthcare and schools, for example, plus statutory maternity pay for all mothers (which I am not against).
                But maternity pay linked to income is disgustly unfair and makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
                Moreover, those who have profited from silly house price increases and who own 2 or more properties are rich, so should not be getting any free childcare at all.
                People can make their own decisions and pay for their own children. That would be fair.
                People who claim maternity pay, child benefit and now subsidised childcare are no more or less spongers and scroungers than those claiming unemployment benefits and housing benefit, however dishonestly.
                Benefits shoud address need. They should NOT be offered as a bribe for voters.

  • lee taylor

    I think you’re being a bit unfair on her here Isabel.
    I think she’s made some very valied points this morning none of which anyone seems interested in.

    If the French, Swedes and the Danes can have higher ratios whilst also maintaining good quality care then why can’t we?

    • Russell

      Just another ‘split’/negative government story from this journalist.

  • Jon BG

    I do wish she’d stop using the moronic interrogative when explaining policy. Does my head in and sounds like she hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about.

  • Tom Tom

    What is your personal experience Isabel ?

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