WHICHEVER party has the most credible offer on childcare is likely to gain an electoral advantage among swing voters, according to new research by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

New analysis exploring the electoral support for action on childcare reveals that swing voters in England are more likely than average to rank affordable, available childcare as a top priority issue.

Swing voters are 2.3 times more likely if they are parents, and 1.3 more likely as a whole, to prioritise improving childcare availability and costs than the average voter. Over one in 10 swing voters (13 per cent) consider childcare among their top three priorities. This voter coalition is formed of swing voters, ‘disengaged commuters’ and Black and Asian voters, as well as parents and grandparents.

Beyond these voters, there is still a significant appetite for action on childcare, especially to reduce inequality. More than half of voters would back a political party planning to expand childcare for disadvantaged families.

The findings also reinforce an established body of evidence that the current system isn’t working for children, parents or providers. Less than half of parents with young children (46 per cent) say they have easy access to a nursery and only a quarter of the public (27 per cent) say childcare is affordable.

Parents on a low income are considerably less likely than affluent parents to feel satisfied that they have access to nursery staff that enjoy their work and are well supported (41 per cent) – pointing to a concern over the gap in quality of provision.

The current system is also perpetuating inequalities, with parents of a child with a special educational need or disability more likely to report it has been difficult to find childcare (43 per cent compared with 38 per cent of parents of non-disabled children).

Regarding childcare as a barrier to work, 71 per cent of parents working part time said childcare factors were behind their inability to go full time, with the vast majority (84 per cent) of those saying they would be likely to increase their working hours if they had access to more free childcare hours.

The public’s top three priorities for childcare are:

  • Provide more money to nurseries to prevent nursery closures, and spend more on staff training, instead of increasing the number of children offered free hours at a nursery or a childminder.
  • Extend the offer of 30 free hours at nursery a week to children whose parents are studying, as well as those who are working
  • Make after-school clubs free for all primary school-age children.

IPPR is calling for a childcare guarantee – a universal offer of high-quality support extending from the end of parental leave through to the end of primary school.

Rachel Statham, associate director at IPPR, said: “When the UK government announced the largest-ever expansion of free childcare last spring, they might have expected to reap the benefits at the next General Election. But a botched roll-out and a lack of resource has left parents and providers without the security they need.

“As the country prepares to go to the polls, childcare is likely to be a top concern for voters at this election. Parents and grandparents want to see more funding for nurseries to prevent closures and train staff, over and above further expansion of free childcare hours – suggesting they want to see a serious plan to stabilise the sector and boost quality. Whichever party offers a credible plan for childcare may well stand to win over a crucial constituency of swing voters come July.”

* Read: An electoral strategy for childcare here.

* Source: Institute for Public Policy Research