Council of economic advisers asked to assess increase in support akin to other European countries
Childcare has been singled out as a key area of social policy where the Scottish government will lay out a detailed prospectus for an independent Scotland ahead of the referendum.
In his speech to the SNP conference, First Minister Alex Salmond said the council of economic advisers, which includes Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, will be directed to report on “the economic and social impact of Scotland moving to the levels of support for childcare commonplace across European countries.”
The move is the first step in an effort by the pro-independence camp to link social impacts to the economic benefits that they say will follow a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum – what Salmond called “part of the why of independence”.
“Today I want to illustrate why social change can also release the untapped potential of Scotland and make us not just a prosperous economy but a just society and why these concepts go hand in hand – a prosperous economy and a just society,” Salmond told delegates.
Women are being deliberately targeted as part of this effort, with Salmond highlighting the employment gap between the genders – the latest figures show 66 per cent of women are in employment compared to 76 per cent of men. The cost of childcare is widely cited as holding back female involvement in the workplace.
Salmond highlighted the increase in free preschool education under the first SNP government from 412 to 475 hours, and its commitment in the imminent Children & Young Persons’ Bill to increase this further, to 600 hours.
An SNP spokesman identified countries like Germany, Finland and Iceland, where in excess of three quarters of early years education is paid for by the state, but where the overall level of taxation is similar to the UK, as models that will be considered for comparison. Roughly 25 percent of childcare costs are covered in the UK, on average.
The policy commitment comes just days after the UK Government made its own announcement on childcare, promising to provide up to £1200 of childcare vouchers to families where parents work.
Reacting to the plans, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister’s decision to put childcare into his list of independence promises for tomorrow is not the outcome 50,000 two year olds who will grow up in Scotland between now and the referendum deserve. I’m disappointed that our reasonable and costed plans to deliver free nursery care for forty percent of two year olds is now being used as a sweetener in the independence referendum.”