Good morning from New Economy Brief.

Last week, a coalition of over 30 campaign organisations, think tanks and trade unions launched the Early Education and Childcare Coalition (EECC). According to its first report Pulse Check: Public attitudes towards early education and childcare, these issues could be an important factor in the next general election, with 42% of voters saying they will influence their decision.  

But why is childcare so significant for voters? And what are campaigners proposing? This week’s New Economy Brief explores the state of childcare and early education provision in the UK, and why any party hoping for electoral success will need comprehensive proposals for reform.

The childcare problem. Childcare is expensive - particularly in the UK. So much so that it is a key driver of the cost of living crisis, as New Economy Brief explored last year. A couple with median incomes and two young children pay more than half the mother’s net income for childcare, more than double the OECD average and worse than any other OECD country. In a survey of mothers by the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, almost half of respondents had considered quitting their jobs because of childcare issues and a quarter skip meals or heating to pay for it. Clearly, the astronomical cost of childcare does profound harm to many parents’ lives - but also to the economy more generally. It’s no surprise that this is a priority for voters. 

  • Why is it so bad? One explanation for why the UK has such a bad childcare problem is that the system relies on extractive ownership models. Christine Berry has described how the private-sector model underpinning much of the childcare sector (“often backed by private equity investors and laden with debt”) is the source of high prices, low pay and working standards for childminders and poor quality provision. A UCL Social Research Institute paper explores how private-for-profit and charity (not-for-profit) sectors differed in their use of public money to subsidise childcare provision. (Check out parent-led cooperative childcare company Friendly Families for an example of best practice.)

Public opinion. Unsurprisingly, research by Claremont and More in Common on behalf of The EECC found that very few people oppose reforming and investing in early education and childcare. And, as we mentioned earlier, nearly half of voters said that early years reform will influence them at the general election. What’s more, while voters generally support the expansion of government support announced in the 2023 Spring Budget, only 18% could explain the government’s plans in detail. Support drops from 68% to just 32% when the public is presented with evidence about funding rates, workforce strategy and lack of floor space, which many say make the plans unworkable without more investment.

  • Reservations. The disconnect between headline policy announcements and the lack of funding provided has long been a source of frustration for those campaigning for early years reform (such as free and universal childcare). These campaigners may also be disappointed to learn that a significant chunk of voters aren’t keen on universalism, with over half saying that government support for early education and childcare should be targeted at parents who would otherwise struggle to afford it. Furthermore, most of the public (73 per cent) think parents should pay some of the cost of early years education and childcare.
  • How to pay for it. When childcare is so unaffordable for so many, why are voters not clamouring for a free and universal alternative? Essentially, because they don’t know how the government could fund it. Qualitative research carried out for the EECC found that voters worry about “value for money” and are concerned that government money is tight: “Participants wanted to know how much government plans were likely to cost and how they would be funded.” 

Social infrastructure. One of the report’s key findings was that voters do not see longer term, economic benefits to investing in early education and childcare. However, they clearly care about value for money, with around half (47%) saying that increased investment is a good idea only if the economic benefits outweigh the costs. In other words, voters think it is a good idea for the Government to spend money on childcare if we eventually see the returns. According to economists, this is exactly what would happen. Researchers Jerome De Henau and Susan Himmelweit calculated that 30 hours of free childcare for all children aged between 6 months and 4.5 years, with a pay rise for carers, would cost £10.4bn. This investment would create 310,000 new full time jobs and 70% of the spending could be recouped from increased tax receipts as more people were enabled to take on more work. At the moment, spending on public services such as childcare is seen as “current expenditure” or “public consumption”. But because of its positive implications for growth and productivity, think tanks and campaigners have argued that it should instead be viewed as ‘social infrastructure’ and therefore as investment. This would allow governments to spend more on childcare and early years and consider this spending as part of longer term policy.

Clearly, childcare and early years provision is a key issue for the public and a worry for families up and down the country. However, when it comes to solutions, the problem is met with a degree of fatalism, with voters lacking confidence that there is enough money to reform the system. It seems, though, that voters don’t mind spending as long as there is a return on investment. Perhaps a focus on the long term benefits of childcare investment, and its role as social infrastructure, is the answer to persuading more voters to back more structural childcare reform.

Weekly Updates


Pressure on G20 over wealth taxes. Over 300 millionaires, economists and politicians signed an open letter urging G20 leaders to create a new global agreement on taxing the super-rich. This was organised by organisations including Patriotic Millionaires and Oxfam.

TUC calls for wealth tax. The UK needs a ‘national conversation about taxing wealth and windfalls’ according to new TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak. Ahead of TUC Congress, the umbrella body released new public opinion research demonstrating the popularity of increasing taxes on wealth, including 72% support for equalising capital gains tax with income tax.


Renewables investment. The UK should directly invest public money to break what’s effectively a “private capital strike” over renewables investment, according to Melanie Brusseler and Chris Hayes at Common Wealth.They argue that the failed Contracts for Difference auction for UK offshore wind projects “shows that private investment cannot be relied upon to deliver the transition”.


Anti-strike law challenged. The TUC has announced it is taking an official complaint against the government’s new anti-strike legislation to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The announcement came as union leaders used the first day of TUC Annual Congress in Liverpool to voice opposition to the plans.

Climate change

Heat risk. The UK will face a ‘deadly cocktail’ of rising temperatures and an ageing population over the next 20 years according to a new report from Autonomy. The think tank calls for more focus on building upgrades, urban infrastructure, and health and safety policy to help manage the risk of mortality.

Industrial strategy

Costs of inaction. Failing to put a green industrial strategy in place could wipe £224bn off the UK economy by 2050, according to the Aldersgate Group. The report argues that there could be huge economic dividends “if a thriving green industrial sector is created through investment and policy support”.