Child daycare is a crucial issue for gender equality. In Britain its provision, and especially publicly provided or subsidised daycare, has been meagre in comparison with a range of European States. In seeking to explain childcare policy in post-war Britain to the beginning of the 21st century, this study focuses primarily on the institutional context. It shows how the liberal state tradition, limiting intervention in the private family, and market spheres has intersected with an issue that impinges on family responsibilities and, arguably, requires public resources for its effective resolution. This work also argues that liberalism - in practice an eminently flexible approach - cannot on its own explain policy. Account must be taken of the gender assumptions of policy-makers and their principal advisers, including in the past trade unions; of the centralization of the British governmental process; of the weakness and fragmentation of the childcare lobby, including the less than wholehearted involvement of the women's movement; and of the sheer contingencies of timing.
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