Providing free nursery places to help mums return to work could actually make the government money, a think tank has claimed.
According to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), free nursery care for all pre-school children would generate millions of pounds in tax revenue from women who chose to return to work - outstripping the cost of the government paying for childcare.
East Falkirk MP Michael Connarty backed the IPPR report, saying it made “total sense” to allow women to fulfil their earning potential.
He supports expanding the current policy, introduced by the previous government, which gives 15 free hours at nursery every week for three- and four-year-olds.
“This is an argument that has been around for years,” Mr Connarty said. “It makes perfect sense. The benefits to the economy as well as to the individual are huge.”
The IPPR estimates that the cost of universal childcare would be £6.7bn.
However, its sums suggest each mother returning to work full-time on an average wage would actually make the government £20,050 a year over four years in taxes.
Taking into account that many mothers are part-time or do not earn enough to pay tax, the figure would be nearer £4860 going to the government.
One local mum agreed that she would love to return to work, but the cost of childcare meant it was impossible.
Mother-of-four Hazel Reid (38), who is a qualified hairdresser, said she could not cover the costs of leaving 19-month-old Aaron in a nursery to go back to her job.
“I know a lot of mums are in the same boat - they would love to be working but they just can’t afford it,” said Hazel.
“The cost of childcare is ridiculous. If there are no grandparents who are able to provide childcare it is just impossible,” said Hazel. “I’d love to go back to work part-time and it’s not just about the money - it’s also that when you’re stuck in the house all the time it can be very isolating and you lose your confidence.
“Also, when you give up your job you need to re-train and that makes it difficult to get back into work.”
The IPPR report highlights the fact that childcare costs in the UK are higher than other European countries, with couples in the UK spending 27 per cent of their income on childcare - more that twice the average in Europe.
The IPPR report also says that introducing universal childcare would have to be combined with improved economic growth and rising levels of employment to ensure jobs for women who want to return to work.
Mr Connarty added: “The great problem at the moment is that the government is sucking up money into the Treasury to pay back the debt caused by the banks.
“I think it is madness leaving no money for investment, so instead of creating growth, the economy is going into recession.”