Sunday, 19 February 2012

Can we learn about maternity provision from Denmark?

The Labour party this week are looking at maternity and childcare provision in Denmark to see if any good practice can be used here. This is timely as the UK has one of the highest costs of childcare in the EU.  It is not uncommon for people to spend up to ¾ of their income on childcare.  In Denmark however people pay 25% of the cost of childcare and the government subsidises the rest.  Is this a policy that could be translated in the UK?  Could the government even afford it?
In Denmark it makes financial sense for mothers to return to work.  Here in the UK the opposite is true.  This means that the UK could be losing out on a lot of talent, skills and knowledge.  My work within the NHS as a diversity manager has seen many women within the profession leave to have their children, with the optimism of returning back to work within a few months.  The reality is that many of them, due to the cost of childcare are forced to reduce their hours or leave work entirely.  This cannot be good for the NHS or the economy as a whole, when such talented people are leaving the workforce.  Once women leave the workforce, it can be difficult for them to come back in at the same level and many take jobs at lower levels than they are competent for.  The cost is compounded if women have two or three children.
Conversely, I have watched some mothers return to work, much sooner than they wanted too, in the main to earn enough to pay the childcare bill.  The provision in Denmark also allows for the partner to be involved in the upbringing of their child and most men there take three months paternity leave as opposed to two weeks here. Although the government has extended the maternity and paternity provisions to allow the time to be shared between couples, in reality as most of the time is unpaid, most partners will be unable to afford to take more than two weeks off.
Having just revised my Trust’s flexible working policy, I know the issue of flexible working for new mums is a difficult one to balance for companies.  Some mums after having their children would like to spend two or three days a week with their child and work on the other days, however the company needs certain roles to be done full time.  The UK has slowly begun to embrace the concept of flexible working, but there is still a long way to go in terms of allowing home working, term time working and part time work.
The Labour party would do well to look into the crisis of childcare costs within Britain and how best the money spent to help alleviate financial pressure in this area is best channelled.

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