Young gifted and caring

January 29, 2013 by
Filed under: Politics, Public policy 

A few observations on today’s unhelpfully polarised row about child care and then an idea of my own….

Thanks, in part, to her arguments being pulled apart by think tanks and lobby groups, children’s minister Liz Truss has actually moved quite a long way from her earlier back bench pronouncements on pre-school education. In those she had argued a form of market fundamentalism whereby removing all regulations would lead to a flourishing of innovation and a sharp decline in charges. Her tone now is more balanced and thoughtful and, in fact, just as she lightens one area of regulation – on ratios – she is tightening another – on qualifications.

Assuming that: (a) almost all parents are very focussed on their children’s welfare; (b) generally it is better for infants from deprived backgrounds to be in regulated child care than at home; (c) in the context of austerity and a squeeze on living standards tough choices have to be made, it is probably better that the state should regulate something which it is hard for the public to make their own judgement about (qualifications of nursery workers and educational quality of provision) than something which it isn’t (the ratio of adults to children)

In opposing the proposals the Opposition is in danger of falling further into a message and policy mire. In general terms Labour argues that it will have to maintain spending limits at a level pretty close to that being imposed by the Coalition, but on specific issue after specific issue the implication from shadow ministers is that it can avoid unpopular, cost-driven, Government decisions. It may well be – and ippr and the Resolution Foundation both argue this – that increasing funding of childcare should be the top priority for an incoming Government but while the think tanks are explicit about where the money could come, not only have Labour ministers identified many other priorities they are also more coy about measures to save money or raise revenues.

As for my suggestion, it is this. The need for care – whether formal or informal – is bound to rise. Also, notwithstanding some clever Japanese house robots, the relative costs of care will rise as it is inherently a ‘high touch’ activity with only incremental scope for productivity improvements. So, how about making caring a core part of the school curriculum and as part of this developing a new norm that all young people undertake a substantial work placement (say, 100 hours) in a caring setting at some point in their 14-19 education. These placements would not be paid but they would be accredited and might earn some rebate on future student loans. Importantly, all pupils and not just those with aspirations to work in care settings would undertake the placements.

This way young people get a powerful practical experience which will be relevant to them either as workers or simply as good family members and citizens

The status of caring is raised as every young person gets to understand how important, challenging and rewarding it is.

In both nurseries and settings for elders there are more young people which – if properly structured – will lead to a higher quality and more positive experience for children and older people





  • Robert Burns


    this is a great idea and would go a long way to breaking down the poisonous divisions that have grown up between the generations over the past twenty years.

    A real bonus is that it would be a national program, addressing a national problem.

  • Carl Allen

    Placements … unpaid work … accredited … future rebate of some sort.

    Hello Matthew

    The above is one form of alternative currency.

    The government and civil society organisations that generate alternative currencies are yet to connect so that currency exchanges are sustainable and worthwhile between the mainstream and the alternative currencies.

    It would be great to see this discussion carried to another level.


  • Tom Brookes FRSA

    Not very often this happens Matthew; but I disagree with you quite strongly.

    My concern with your suggestion is that it seems like legislating to promote compassion – which I’d submit doesn’t work. I’m put in mind of Barry Schwartz’s example of the hospital janitor – who does a lot to help care which isn’t in the rulebook, and if you put it in there it’d be an insult – How would this be enforced?

    If the problem is people working too much and/or being too poor to pay for care for children or infirm parents, then I’d submit that it’s the world of work which must change – not the rest of society. Be it shorter hours, better pay or both. Doesn’t the French example and Conservative disdain for the working time directive make this case? The answer to this issue surely rests first on deciding whether we want to live in a society where overwork to the detriment of caring relationships is acceptable before we rush in with ideas about funding and providing care to enable it.

    It seems somewhat flippant, but perhaps if we worked a little less for a little more we could all do more to take care of our own kids or parents! But then, our culture ties our job to our identity so much that it’s almost taboo to think of a Brit working less for more. It just wouldn’t be in the Blitz spirit. Maybe that needs rethinking too.

  • Robert Burns

    Carl and Tom,

    while much of what you write is entirely valid, there is a key point you are missing here.

    This society has become so fractured that the generations co-exist almost as genetically distinct species.

    The public rhetoric that is frequently used to describe the relationship(s) between generations sets out the relationship as being confrontational and predatory.

    Anything that works towards undoing this is worth a go.


    you mention that it is “taboo to think of a Brit to working less for more”.

    And you mention that “overwork to the detriment of caring relationships is acceptable”.

    Not to the people I know and work with: only to people who want to sustain their place in a destructively obsolete class system by making a fire sale of other people’s economic future.

    On your point about the ties between job and identity, this doesn’t hold up out here in the social-economic boonies.

    Again, many of the people I know reject their “job identity” and the general consensus is that defining yourself through your job means you’re either a crook (meaning politician, Chief Executive, Stock Broker, etc.) or a sad bastard.

    People who define themselves through their economic occupation are a dying tribe that is the constituency of the political class.

    It is not the mass of the population who need to change but the shrinking, disproportionately influential group I have described immediately above.

    Matthew remains catastrophically wrong in the details he chooses to imply into this idea, but right on the big principle.

  • Tom Brookes FRSA


    Fair comment. I’d hope most people do want to work less for more.

    I should’ve been clearer – smartphone commenting… the pantomime attitude towards work I outlined comes from politicians and business leaders – getting rid of the working time directive, more hours less money, the minimum (minimal) wage… & 30 years of wage repression.

    That’s got to be a big part of what forces anti-caring working conditions on folk. I really didn’t mean people consciously choose that attitude!

  • Robert Burns

    Tom and Carl,

    fully understood the points you were making and agreed, just pointing out a different focal point.

    Thanks for your reply.