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In the years following Qatar’s successful 2010 bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, there has been a significant shift in its engagement with the migrant labour rights discourse, and subsequent embarkment on significant reforms as the result of intense international scrutiny and advocacy action. The core feature of Qatar’s historically evolved transnational labour management system, Kafala, has become a key focal point of international advocacy efforts. The objective of this article is to assess the extent to which the reforms constitute a break in Qatar’s historical (that is, pre-FIFA 2022) labour management system, and thus a meaningful disruption to the social reproduction regime that allowed the Kafala system to persist. We do so by probing the institutionalisation of those reforms, with a particular focus on the agency of labour through collective worker empowerment. Drawing on interviews with key transnational actors involved in the reform process in situ, we employ the ‘established-outsider’ relations concept in our analysis of the reforms, while highlighting the remaining challenges. Our ultimate argument is that although the reforms in Qatar seek to provide more labour rights and protections, they fall short of loosening the absolute control of sponsors (kafeels) over their employees. This is due to two main reasons: the absence of strong and effective institutions to convert the legal reforms into rights in practice; and the fact that laws outside of the labour ministry, that fall under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry, are the foundation of the relationship between citizens and migrants and remain largely untouched. These double-edged limitations guarantee the social reproduction of the highly unequal labour mobility system by firmly keeping in place ‘established-outsider’ relations.

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Housing and care are key sites of social reproduction that shape and are shaped by the labour process. As a Theory into Practice contribution, this article proposes social reproduction as a corrective that can restore the ‘human’ to discussions on temporary labour migration, including the potential for agency. Traditionally, ‘housing’ and ‘care’ are treated as disparate objects of regulation, which are further fragmented by the process of policy making itself. The article proposes ideas, some reflected in the International Labour Organization (ILO’s) recommendations, to turn aspirational values into lived realities to improve the historical disadvantages faced by temporary migrant workers. While it is widely accepted that this is necessary, we should remain hopeful that it is also achievable.

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Nurseries are for children, and ultimately their success must be judged by whether they are places where all children can thrive. Ideally a nursery should be able to offer supportive and stimulating environments for all children, whatever their circumstances. The chapter discusses the relevance of the theories of James Heckman, the Nobel prize-winning economist who argued that nurseries of any kind could be instrumental in changing outcomes for poor children. Unfortunately, despite recent government initiatives, prompted by Heckman’s theories, the poorest children, and those with special needs, are most likely to be excluded from private nurseries, although they do attend nursery education classes and schools. This chapter explores what happens to children with special needs whose parents are seeking a nursery place. It concludes that there is only a very weak conception of children’s rights informing government policies on nurseries, and young children do not get the justice to which they should be entitled.

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England has a separate system, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills), for inspecting and regulating nurseries, from the other constituent nations of the UK, and this system only collects English data, but the regulatory processes are roughly similar across the UK. However, the private sector does not differentiate between nations in the data it amasses but instead refers to UK trends. This chapter argues that Ofsted’s remit is woefully inadequate. This is partly a reflection of the so far irreconcilable divisions and standards of care and education, but also because Ofsted has made no allowances in its regulatory procedures for the private sector, which it does not even acknowledge as a category. Despite heavy levels of government subsidy to the private sector, Ofsted does not monitor anything to do with costs and fees and value for money, and has no remit to inspect the activities and financial arrangements of the growing offshore company sector. On a more minor level, there are conspicuous gaps in its monitoring of physical activity and environmental issues, which are discussed.

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The UK performs poorly in international comparisons of childcare, despite government claims to the contrary. The most recent cross-national enquiry, in 2023, by the UNICEF Office of Research (Innocenti Centre), puts the UK 36th out of 41 rich countries. This chapter considers the methodologies that are used in cross-national enquiries, and the statistics that are available for comparison. The EU Eurydice datasets and OECD datasets are particularly useful for exploring the extensive range of issues within childcare, including income levels and ability to pay, as well as service standards and parental leave arrangements. The chapter highlights the inadequacy of the UK contribution to data collection, as well as the comparatively poor services.

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This chapter provides background to the issues raised in the book. Who provides nurseries? Who uses them? Who can access them? Who works in them? Who checks whether they are doing a good job? Who pays? And crucially, how do they affect the children who do attend them? Are services really child-focused?

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Increasing numbers of mothers of young children are in the workforce and face pressures to find and choose childcare. Young mothers are often ambivalent about leaving their young children and need to find ways of reconciling work and domestic life, such as family support, flexible working hours, better maternity and paternity benefits and parental leave, and nursery provision. There are considerable difficulties in choosing childcare and paying for childcare, and there is information asymmetry in a private market that makes choice especially difficult. For most children under 2 years old, marginal childcare workers (nannies, babysitters, au pairs, aunties, grandparents etc) are often used as a solution. Many of these marginal carers are migrant women.

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Almost by default, in the absence of any kind of rethinking of services or new investment as a response to the increasing number of mothers of young children in the workforce, private owners have been encouraged to open nurseries. It has become accepted as a matter of fact that childcare is a business, and that, like every other business, it must make a profit to survive. This acceptance of treating children as a commodity item, which is unacceptable in most other countries, dominates provision in the UK. This chapter explores the casualness of policy decisions about private childcare and lists some of the drawbacks of private provision – high costs, uneven access, outsourcing, lack of accountability, and increasing market volatility as businesses open, shut, sell or merge without consultation with parents or staff. Increasingly, as mergers and acquisitions of nursery businesses have taken place, the childcare market has been bought out by big offshore or foreign-owned companies, who incur then exploit debt to avoid paying taxes.

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The haphazard history of nursery education and care and the current ad hoc provision of private childcare in the UK means that there are many contradictory policy decisions, and, without coherent policies, it is almost impossible to establish cost parameters. This chapter discusses costing issues, such as state versus private subsidies, and supply-side as opposed to demand-led funding. It explores how money is creamed off by large financialized companies who are poorly regulated – as with water companies, for instance. The chapter argues for an overall cost commitment to cover early childhood education and care services and infrastructure, appropriate training and working conditions, monitoring and data collection, and continuous review of quality and outcomes (the OECD has suggested 1 per cent of GDP), and considers questions of distribution, disbursement and monitoring of finances at national and local levels.

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The aims and delivery of nursery provision have changed considerably over the last 50 years, and have had a chequered history. Nursery and childcare provision in the UK has always been class-based, with one type of care for the elite (nannies and public schools) and welfare care in public day nurseries for the poor who couldn’t manage to bring up their children properly. School-based nursery education, a high-quality, free, state service, employing well-trained staff, albeit with part-time hours, gradually expanded, although it has been badly eroded over recent years and has not been allowed to respond to new pressures from working women. For a time, there were experiments with self-run community and co-operative nurseries to try to bridge the gap between care and education. Most recently, increased demands for childcare for working parents has been met by the growth of privately owned nurseries, some very upmarket, but essentially based on the same care standards and guidelines in terms of staffing, ratios and activities as the old welfare nurseries. The divisions between care and education have never been resolved.

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