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Home Opinion Childcare, childcare, childcare
Social Investment • Reform • Welfare

Childcare, childcare, childcare

Jon Kvist - 14 May 2013

Prioritising investment in more, better and accessible childcare will play a crucial role in future economic growth. However, doing so entails a fundamental rethinking of the core institutions of the welfare state

To avoid Europe falling further into stagnation and social conflict we need an ambitious strategy of social investment. Prioritising social investments through childcare is not only important for families with children, but for everyone living in Europe now and in the future. For these reasons, the European social investment strategy starts and ends with childcare investment. There are six good reasons why Europe urgently needs to invest massively in more, better and accessible childcare:

1.    Reconciliation of work and family life
Childcare enables traditional carers not to choose between work and children. Without childcare many European families will only have one child or be childless.

2.    Skills and human capital investment

Good quality childcare improves social, language and cognitive skills that are essential to further learning and thereby to raise the skill level and flexibility of future European youths. Childcare investment is the social investment element that builds the fundament of further human capital investment without which, many later investments in schools, training and life-long learning will yield smaller returns, if any.

3.    Finishing the incomplete revolution
Fortunately young people are entering tertiary education in increasing numbers with more women than men completing such education. As the skill levels of European labour markets increase they will also become more feminised. Affordable childcare is essential to maximise the return on educational investment in women, to fight gender discrimination in the labour market and to increase gender equality in families.

4.    Increasing social and cultural cohesion
Boosting social, language and cognitive skills are especially important for groups with another cultural background than the dominant. Mastering the language and cultural codes are instrumental to become integrated in the social, political and economic life in the country of residence. Childcare also helps integration of children later in life. This is the case for all children, but most importantly for children in families with a less privileged background. Early, high quality, interventions for such children may help reduce future school drop-out and crime rates. Childcare investment may thus reduce future public expenditures in the education and the penal system as well as improve the social capital of society through greater degrees of social trust and subjective feelings of personal security.

5.    Childcare confers legitimacy to the welfare state
Young people – current or coming parents – can immediately appreciate how affordable childcare can help realise their dreams of establishing careers and forming families. Without good childcare young people face increasing difficulties in seeing the benefits of a European social model, dominated in most countries by a social insurance model that in the context of an economic crisis both strips them from earning entitlements and social insurance. Where employment protection legislation is strict many young people are also stripped of jobs as employers are reluctant to hire young people on ordinary terms.

6.    Childcare investment as pension provision
Investments in children of today are investments in the pensions of tomorrow. Even if the majority of middle-aged persons do not see how childcare investment today benefits the middle-aged, they may appreciate how human capital investment in due course help secure their retirement provision.

Although childcare investment for the six reasons above is perhaps the most central element in a European social investment strategy it cannot stand alone. The European social investment strategy will benefit from a focus on investment and returns over the life-cycle. To allow for longer periods of return on social investments, many unpopular reforms must also be undertaken. These chiefly involve reforms of employment protection legislation and pensions. When in the process of implementation, many of these types of reforms cause social uproar. Making cuts, without pasting on other policies to sweeten the deal, is difficult for politicians to sell and difficult to swallow for the electorate. Childcare investments and a clearer formulation of the social investment strategy involving both investments and returns may also help the implementation of unpopular elements.

In most countries, the European social investment strategy in these ways entails a rethinking of core institutions – most importantly social insurance, employment protection legislation – and the expansion, subsidising and professionalising of another institution, child care.

Jon Kvist is professor of comparative social policy at the Centre for Welfare State Research, University of Southern Denmark

This article forms part of a series of 30 'Memos to the Left' entitled 'Progressive Governance: The Politics of Growth, Stability and Reform'.

Tags: Jon Kvist , Opinion , Europe , EU , European Union , Childcare , Sweden , United Kingdom , UK , Netherlands , Equality , Income , Tax , Social Investment , Pre-distribution , Denmark , Germany , France , Copenhagen , Denmark , Progressive Governance: Towards Growth and Shared Prosperity , Progressive Governance , Growth , Social stability , Living standards , Policy Network , Global Progress ,

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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