Childcare remains a crucial issue for working parents. It’s time we started seeing it as a central element of Wales’ infrastructure.

It remains a fact that in 2016 you cannot talk about women in the workplace and gender equality without talking about childcare.

The next of our ‘On our Radar’ series looks at childcare.

Persistent ideas about men and women’s roles in society mean that women tend to take on the primary caring role. This in turn, shapes the job choices that women make, which has a well-documented impact on the average income of men and women.

The latest study from the IFS on the gender pay gap demonstrates that after the arrival of the first child, women’s hourly wages drop to a third below men’s from a gap of 10% before having children.

As a result of caring responsibilities, women’s economic participation remains lower than men’s.

Women are more likely to work in part-time jobs, often working below their skill level in roles that offer little opportunity to progress.

This has clear implications for the wider economy. Some estimate that equalising the economic participation of women and men would grow the UK economy by more than 10% by 2030 (Women’s Business Council; 2014).

To make our vision of a Wales where women achieve and prosper a reality, we need to deal with the childcare issue.

In part, this means challenging gender stereotypes. We need to create a culture where caring is shared more evenly between parents and where people can work more flexibly to better balance work and home life.

We also need to change the way we view childcare provision.

Infrastructure is defined as “the basic physical and organisational structures needed for the operation of society or enterprise.”

When discussed in relation to government policies and spending plans conversation tends to focus on physical infrastructure, such as roads and rail.

While this investment is crucial, a successful economy and society also needs good social infrastructure such as childcare and health services.

The Welsh Government has already made clear that increasing childcare provision is a priority.

Plans are being made to increase the free childcare provision for 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours per week. While this is a welcome move, gaps will remain, notably for those with children aged between 1 and 3.

An effective childcare system needs to deliver for parents, children and employers.

It is our view that the best way to deliver such provision is to consider childcare a crucial element of Wales’ infrastructure. Such a shift in perception will help to place investment in childcare at the heart of economic development.

The result will be an economy that better enables everyone to reach their full potential and delivers prosperity for all.

Related.

Briefing Paper: Investing in Childcare.

On Our Radar: Gender Aware Schools.