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March 18, 2014



Thought experiment time.

Suppose that you were the leader of a party whose voters consist of the elderly and middle-class families. Both groups are literally or figuratively dying out, and the birth rate among the latter is not sufficient to produce a burgeoning generation of future voters.

Which policies would you adopt to deal with the above?


I like the way that this essentially treats the 'childcare' money as one bucket of cash to be shared between all cases where childcare is involved; that the 'singletons' are fighting it out with the couples.

That a wrong turn has been taken with child benefits does not necessarily mean that this policy is a bad one. It simply means that this particular government has it's priorities wrong. Or, rather, it's priorities are bang on based on the way it defines it's policies via it's desire to push a moral case for couples.

That aside, there are other countries that see that there is a benefit to heavily subsidised childcare, regardless of the parent's status; I'm assuming that you also believe these countries to have it all wrong as well?


Economically illiterate? Am I right in guessing that the economics behind it is based on an assumption that children are a public good? Or to be blunter, that middle-class children with two working parents are a public good?


I'm sceptical of the worth of and intentions behind this policy - it might be an attempt to get people to work for ever longer hours - but your point about marriage is arguable. If it has such benefits, it could be worthwhile if people are more able to recognise and more capable of experiencing them. Gains in, say, health are hard to connect to one's life but everyone sees money in their wallets.

(I have no kids, by the way. I'm not out for wine.)


Good post as ever, Chris, but you need to be careful about your distinction between "childcare" and "early years education", because they are often the same thing.

In well run daycare facilities (like the one I run as a social enterprise) all "care" provides planned added educational value, through play and early literacy/numeracy, whether or not it is funded through the (free to parents) Nursery Education Grant) or through fees. And the best childminders offer some of the same.

Where you're right about the opportunity costs is where nannying/bog standard childminding and some of the bigger, crapper childcare firms take funding away from early years education via the mechanisms you refer to, now to be expanded.

All in all, though, your arguments here should be the basis of Labour's argument for it 25 hours per week early years education policy.

Neil Wilson

The problem with this argument is that it also applies to school.

The job of work of looking after a child is created when the child is born, and that job has to be done by somebody from that point forward.

The reason that singletons need to chip in is because they will rely on the output of other people's children in the future should they remain childless. There is no right to output made by somebody else.

Plus of course there is no evidence that it is 'paid for' by singletons but rather by dynamic expansion of a depressed economy.

Children are our future and it is about time that the job of looking after them was remunerated adequately - whoever is doing that job. It makes no sense that the state pays if we swap children, but not if we keep our own.

It is time to realise that we need a wraparound care system for children - if we wish to continue with requiring that 'everybody works until they drop'.

Hamed Bastan-Hagh

The issue of incidence is a big one. In a decent suburb of Manchester we pay £45/day for my son's nursery. If we get some sort of additional tax break towards childcare then I'm prepared to bet that some or all of it will be swallowed up in short order by "unavoidable price rises due to rising costs of business".

The point about Mumsnet is fair but worth mentioning also that a huge number of MPs will be beneficiaries of this policy. Not suggesting this is a pure money grab but more so that it is salient to them in a way that the problems of poor people aren't.


The policy is simply designed to correct the mistake the coalition made (from their perspective)in proposing the removal of Child Tax Credit from better off families. They never expected they would have to implement that, but their economically illiterate austerity programme tanked the economy, and made it necessary to implement it.

All of these subsidies and benefits are a subsidy from workers to capital. They should all be scrapped, and a Minimum Wage introduced at a level sufficient to provide enough to ensure the reproduction of labour-power. That would need to be supplemented by a decent level of unemployment benefit, preferably paid out from a worker owned and controlled social insurance scheme, as workers were developing via their Friendly Societies in the 19th Century.

Preferably, workers need their own monopoly agency supplier of labour-power, may be One Big Union, or something similar to Robert Owen's Grand Consolidated Trade Union, to counteract the monopoly ownership of capital.

That would also mean that the kind of principles that Marx outlined in the Critique of the Gotha Programme would also apply. In other words, if some people decided to have larger families than the average, they would have to fund it themselves from their wages, by working more, or foregoing something else, rather than expecting other workers with smaller families to fund their activity.


I agree with this article.

But it is also about social engineering, or could be viewed that way. The nanny state plays nanny, almost literally!

Yet another Chris

I don't believe in subsidising anything. Because? Well, the business model always changes to suck up the subsidy and more. Pensions, for example. Providers take the subsidy that forty per cent income tax payers get into account and mop it up. They even suck up some of the twenty per cent. Electric cars. The five thousand GBP subsidy is sucked up. I could go on. You can be absolutely certain that child care providers will do the same.

That said, we, whether parents or singletons need children to secure our future. Who will wipe your bum when you're old, otherwise?

This subsidy is not, though, the answer to the real problem - over-regulation of child care above and beyond virtually any other country in the world. Less regulation is what's needed.

Dave C

Everyone gets exactly one childhood, therefore everyone benefits equally from spending on children (intergenerational differences notwithstanding).

Where do you get the idea that some people benefit more than others based on the number of sprogs they have?

Luis Enrique

we have a pension system in which pensions are paid by taxes of the presently young. So does Neil Wilson have a point that non-wealthy single people are free riding on the costs and effort others incur having children?


Demonstrate assortative mating using fungible models. Write on one side of the paper only.


Luis: "we have a pension system in which pensions are paid by taxes of the presently young."

Other Chris: "Who will wipe your bum when you're old, otherwise?"

These are perhaps arguments in favour of pro-immigration policies rather than pro-creation policies? The Tories certainly can't say "We have too many people here!" and "We need more people!" in the same sentence.


To which you could add there are many people who are caring for an elderly or sick relative, which also inhibits their ability to work. This is somehow less worthy of support from the tax payer.

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