Huffington Post: It's every Londoner's duty to create a city that cradles and nurtures our future generations.
4 in 10 children in London live in poverty. That's 597,000 kids below the poverty line.
There are, of course, many different reasons why London is by far the worst city in the UK for child poverty rates. London, for instance, has higher rates of mothers out of work than other parts of the country and there is a pattern of part-time jobs not having their pay 'London weighted' as most full-time jobs do. The lower rate of employment for London mothers sounds counter-intuitive, but is generally down to the prohibitive costs of childcare for many in the capital. The costs being so high that many mothers would choose not to work as there would be very little financial gain in doing so: wage increase being more or less cancelled out by childcare fees. The situation is even worse for single parents, who don't have the luxury of choice.
Whatever the reasons for child poverty, no child is to blame; by allowing it to continue, we are all to blame.
Improving The situation For Families and Businesses
How do we do this? We could develop a London-wide forum of childcare providers held at the GLA level. After all, borough boundaries mean very little in the daily lives of Londoners, we cross them all the time. You could compare childcare providers near your office in King's Cross to the equivalent near your home in Croydon, on one database, with lists of vacancies and everything else you might need. The budget for childcare could also be held at the GLA rather than borough level, perhaps funded through a levy on local authorities.
Moving things 'up the ladder' allows for a more strategic plan to be put in place, one that evaluates London as a whole. Of course, assessments on whether you're eligible for free childcare can still take place at the borough level, but pooling resources on funding and information would give the Mayor much more clout in providing for kids in London.
A Partnership For London's Future
We should encourage businesses to develop in-office nurseries, just like the one in the Houses of Parliament. When this was set up, the idea was to send a message to the corporate world that, regrettably, hasn't been taken up. Parents feel less anxious knowing their kids are in the same building as them - so nurseries are an attractive employee benefit for businesses.
In recent years there's also been a drop in the number of childminders, who are the best source of childcare in 'atypical' hours (outside of 8am-6pm). This makes it difficult for parents who work evenings and weekends, as many people now do. Greater flexibility on nursery opening hours would also go some way to alleviating the pressure on childcare provision (as would the promotion of flexible working systems like job shares and working from home).
Innovation And Technology For The Future
One proposal I'm not so keen on is the 'Children Centres' of combined services; it's a 1970's policy, in 2015. Let's look forward, not back. Couldn't we harness technology to help solve our problems? Everything is digital and an app that taught kids about the world, values, citizenship, or even politics, could really take off. If the London-wide forum of childcare providers, mentioned above, was also partnered with genuine digital outreach, we can bring our approach to childcare into the 21st Century. Let's not also forget innovative companies creating new businesses that are huge issues in London - JustPark are allowing people to use their app to rent out their unused parking spaces, Bizzby is an app for 'on demand services' where you can find anything from a cleaner to a locksmith. Let's not forget the more established Hungry Houseand Just Eat apps that not only are useful, but have created new business. All these apps were created in the UK and many in London.
Can innovation like this be applied to childcare?
As a city that is among the leader of the world in technology, and business - we must make it our responsibility to find a way to harness what we do so well to solve our city's most severe problems.
There are far more opportunities than a blog will allow for, but I think there are few that would argue that there is a problem more severe than the life of a child being threatened by what is in essence fortune. It is every Londoner's duty to ensure our future generations thrive - and we have a stark opportunity to do it.