Academic journal article Capital & Class

The National Childcare Strategy: The Social Regulation of Lone Mothers as a Gendered Reserve Army of Labour

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The National Childcare Strategy: The Social Regulation of Lone Mothers as a Gendered Reserve Army of Labour

Article excerpt

Introduction

New Labour's National Childcare Strategy (NCS) was outlined in Meeting the Childcare Challenge (Secretary of State for Education and Employment et al., 1998). The NCS was introduced by New Labour as a market-led approach to addressing the lack of childcare provision in England. As such, it might be held up as a 'Third Way' approach to the delivery of childcare, for it is structured through several features--including the state working in 'partnership' with the private and voluntary sectors; the state regulating, but not directly providing, public goods; and the state 'working to provide public goods (such as childcare, education and training) to underpin greater equality of opportunity'--that are held to be part of a 'third way approach to public policy' (Driver & Martell, 2002: 78). However, it has been observed (for example, Callinicos, 2001) that while 'Third Way' is used to describe an approach said to be beyond both the old left and the new right, it is actually concerned with buttressing neoliberalism. This paper develops the Callinicos argument by examining how the NCS as an area of social policy is aimed, at a general level, at consolidating neoliberalism while, more specifically, encouraging newly-important childcare markets through various forms of subsidisation.

The importance of childcare in allowing women with dependent children to take paid employment has been observed for many years (Martin & Roberts, 1984; Brown, 1989; Bradshaw & Millar, 1991; Ford, 1996; Dex & Joshi, 1999); and while it has been pointed out that there are still problems with the costs of, and access to, childcare (Rake, 2001), and more fundamental issues related to the assumptions that frame the design and delivery of the NCS in its wider context of New Labour's welfare reform agenda (for example, Duncan & Edwards, 1997; Wheelock & Jones, 2002), there is also recognition of the potential of the NCS to improve the well-being of particularly children. Pacey (2002), for example, focuses on the potential of the NCS to help New Labour in its aim of abolishing child poverty, a point also made by Rowlingson and McKay (2002: 117).

What these analyses do not capture is the importance attached to the NCS in terms of managing economic stability. The aim of this paper is to address this issue, and to provide a political economy of the NCS by focusing on the regulatory functions of the NCS in the management of neoliberalism. It does this by examining the introduction and development of the NCS through a regulation approach analytical framework, in which it is possible to explore the role of social policy in the governance of capital accumulation. Before examining the analytical framework, we need to briefly examine the components of the NCS.

The National Childcare Strategy

Meeting the Childcare Challenge argued that there were three problems with childcare in England: it was not of consistent quality, there was not enough of it, and it was not affordable. The aim, therefore, was to 'ensure good quality, affordable childcare for children aged 0 to 14 in every neighbourhood' (Secretary of State for Education and Employment et al., 1998: 6). While defining 'quality childcare' is deeply problematic (see Moss & Pence, 1994), New Labour felt that it could deal with the issue of quality through a combination of the integration of early-years education and childcare provision; a more consistent regulatory regime covering early-years education and childcare; the provision of Early Excellence Centres to disseminate good practice; and the development of a less complex training and qualification framework for childcare workers (ibid.). Over the past five years, there have been developments in relation to these. So, for example, the regulation of early-years education and childcare has been brought together at the Department of Education and Skills, and there has been work 'to rationalise and simplify the many existing qualifications [for childcare workers] into a new framework of nationally accredited qualifications' (Moss, 2000: 73). …

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