Friday, June 25, 2010

Killing 20 hours free

National has always hated Labour's 20 hours free ECE scheme, seeing it as a cost, rather than an investment, and unfair competition for commercial ECE centres. So, in the Budget, they slashed its funding by $400 million over the next four years. And this is now having the natural effect: as centres in the scheme can't charge top-up fees to cover their increased costs, many centres are dropping out completely:

Many early childhood centres are considering leaving the "20 hours free" scheme because of cash cuts announced in the Budget.

A survey of 526 centres shows more than a quarter are looking at leaving the scheme - which allows children aged 3 to 5 20 hours of free care each week - or have decided to do so.

This I think was the government's primary goal: by cutting funding, they get ECE centres to drop out, which reduces costs even more - freeing up more money for them to give to their rich mates (and themselves) as tax cuts. But the effect on people and our society will be horrific. Affordable, low-cost childcare is a key enabler of women entering the workforce. Without it, some will be forced to drop out, stay home and care for the kids - or stay on those benefits the government is so keen to get them off. But its also a key driver of equality in our society: ECE smooths out the gaps in children's circumstances, giving everyone a good start in life. And the effects of this in the long term is higher incomes and less crime. But why would the rich, who already have theirs, care about that?

If John Key was really "ambitious for New Zealand", he'd be boosting ECE funding as a long-term investment in our future. The fact that he is cutting it speaks volumes about his "ambition" - and his total lack of concern for the sort of lives led by the vast majority of New Zealanders.