SINCE coming to Scotland to live and work, I have tried to apply the idea of seeing myself and my home country through the eyes of other people. This gave me more perspective and made me appreciate some aspects of life in France more. We are sometimes very negative about where we come from, and we, the French, are notorious for our constant dissatisfaction: President Emmanuel Macron said in a controversial speech, that the French were “change-resistant Gauls”.

Even the great Charles de Gaulle said in 1945: “In 1944, the French were unhappy, now, they’re disgruntled. That’s progress.”

Well, for a change, I am very disgruntled. Because at the moment, there is one thing I sorely miss: childcare. Good, affordable, reliable childcare.

There is no wonder why – the UK has the most expensive childcare system in the world, according to the OECD. Many parents spend more on childcare than they do on rent or paying back a mortgage. And in a lot of places, it simply is a nightmare to find childcare as thousands of providers have closed over the past few years.

When I first talked about it to some friends in France who are parents too, they were gobsmacked that we paid so much, not even for a full-time place in nursery for our child. Plainly, having their kid in nursery or with a childminder full-time costs them three times less than us. So there was no hesitation to start nursery right at the end of maternity leave, usually three to six months after giving birth.

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It is not to say that the childcare system in France doesn’t have its own challenges: although heavily subsidised, it is going through a crisis as well. Difficult working conditions, low pay, staff shortages and a lack of consideration make it difficult to retain staff. There simply aren’t enough childcare places, especially in big cities where some people have to wait months before they are able to put their kids in nursery. To encourage more people to work in the sector, the French government has authorised people who do not have the required qualifications to be nursery workers. Their employers are mandated to give their unqualified staff training within a year, but this measure still provokes anger and worry among parents and nursery directors: they feel that the only solution they are being offered is lowering the standard of care for their children. Nursery workers just won’t have it: they are already under incredible pressure to ensure the safety of all the kids under their responsibilities – and we all know how toddlers can be.

However, it is nowhere near as bad as the situation in the UK. Here, I know of mothers who had to give up work because they couldn’t afford full-time childcare, the knock-on effect meaning potentially lower pensions when they reach retirement age. I have spoken to a mother who is pondering whether to go back home to Scandinavia because she and her husband are thinking of having a second child, but they wouldn’t be able to pay for two nursery bills. And with the cost of everything going up, childcare too is becoming more expensive.

For me personally, this is an important issue. After working so hard to get where I want to be professionally, it was unthinkable to stop everything for pretty much three years – that’s when funded childcare starts for most people in Scotland – and potentially have to start again from scratch. I need to keep going, develop my projects, and also have a little time for myself. Mothers also need some space to keep their sanity, especially when they don’t have relatives nearby to call for help!

It was also extremely important to put our kid in nursery because we wanted him to be fully bilingual before reaching school age. He is learning French at home, English at nursery, and it’s showing. His first words were in both languages – something I marvel at every single day.

Childcare is woefully underfunded in the UK, and the Government knows it – it spends a meagre 0.1% of its GDP in this critical sector, compared to 1.3% in France, one of the biggest spenders in childcare among OECD countries. Last year, the Early Years Alliance obtained through a Freedom of Information request a document showing that early years funding rates only represented two-thirds of what a fully funded system would cost.

And that’s not even talking about childcare for children under three years old: there is practically no help available. See, this is the kind of thing that makes me want to set up barricades and set things on fire (not that I have ever done either of these things, but you get the sentiment).

Yet, there is no doubt about the benefits of having a great childcare system. According to the Norwegian government, it more or less pays for itself: with affordable childcare, mothers are able to go back to work sooner, triggering economic benefits worth the value added by the country’s oil reserves. In a country productivity as chronically low as the UK, it seems crazy that this solution wasn’t explored more – especially as it didn’t appear overnight, out of nowhere.

For the children as well, childcare has amazing benefits: sure, the number of nasty viruses they catch (and pass on to their parents) is an annoyance, but they socialise better, get more stimulation, and then perform better at school.

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The research is unanimous: it is fantastic in terms of social, emotional and intellectual development.

Yet, this opportunity to develop as happy, curious human beings seems to be a privilege reserved for the elite. This is the great sadness of it all: as always, people on lower incomes are priced out from early learning and childcare. From their very early days, children are not given the same shot at life, something that is going to carry repercussions in their future. By not funding childcare properly, we are letting social determinism do its work of creating gaps in our society.

I am glad that, at last, childcare is getting the attention that it deserves, and parents are demanding better. I love seeing mothers protesting and speaking up for their needs. Everything in motherhood is political: from the conditions in which you give birth, to the care you receive after such a life-changing event, to paid and shared parental and childcare. We all know how bad a deal women get, but I haven’t felt it as painfully as I have since becoming a mum.

This is what people are talking about when they speak against systemic discrimination: the way things work put women at a disadvantage, by no fault of their own. To lighten the load off parents’ shoulders, especially mothers, properly funded childcare is a necessity.