Childcare vouchers aren't enough to bribe this lefty middle-class mother | VJD Smith

Parenthood can turn the nicest of people into selfish sods. To be fair, it’s a strange sort of selfishness, a selfless kind, based on putting your own flesh and blood before the rest of humanity – but it’s selfishness all the same. Sure, you’d die for your kids, but since that scenario is unlikely to arise, you make all sorts of self-interested compromises and justify them “for the sake of the children”.

Before I had mine I didn’t care about catchment areas or league tables or after-school tuition. Even now, I look at that list and cringe at the kind of person (ie, me) who worries about such things. What have I become? A middle-class parent, that’s what. But am I ready to become one who votes Tory?

The new childcare voucher scheme, due to come into force in autumn 2015, seems just the thing to tempt (nominally) leftwing parents like me over to the dark side. For something that’s associated with George Osborne, it seems curiously well considered and almost fair. To be sure, the proposed change to tax savings offered on nursery care would benefit the rich as well as the poor (apparently it’s too “complex” to arrange things differently). Couples earning up to £299,999.98 would be able to claim extra support. Nonetheless, low-income families on universal credit would have 85% of their childcare bills covered, and who could object to that?

While Labour is suitably sniffy about the proposal, describing it as “too little, too late”, Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, has been markedly positive (while noting that “it’s a pity parents will have to wait until at least next autumn for help – the overwhelming majority could do with that help right now”). When it comes to the figures, most analysts seem to be in agreement that all parents who are eligible to claim would be better off under the new scheme. If childcare costs could be viewed in isolation, set apart from any broader social and political context, I’d be voting for this in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, as the timing shows, that’s not the case. It’s a bribe, and since it’s a bribe I’m back into selfish parent mode, thinking: “What’s in it for me and mine?”

I might save some money on childcare but would it cover the cost of the care I’m losing for my disabled older sibling? Does it compensate for my children’s rapidly shrinking horizons? Will it be a price worth paying for pension poverty? Will being a slightly better off family make that much difference in a world where, increasingly, you are either “Eton middle class” or nothing at all? A vote for a different party might not change this situation but it feels preferable to accepting the inevitable. Of course, such thinking involves anything but altruism. There may be poorer parents who benefit from this change (even if they lose out elsewhere). I can cross my fingers that the opposition will propose something better but isn’t that what middle-class lefties always do? (And middle-class lefty parents are the worst.)

We’ve always known that the odd financial sweetener can’t compensate for an ever-widening equality gap. If the past four years have taught us anything, it’s that the more the gap widens, the more we focus on ourselves. Principles are for the hyper-rich, while it is guilty venality for those of us in the middle and hunger for those at the bottom. The party of the hyper-rich knows this all too well. I think this offer is too little, for everyone, but who am I to judge? Alas, beggars can’t be choosers – and that’s just what the Tories are counting on.

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Childcare vouchers aren't enough to bribe this lefty middle-class mother | VJD Smith
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