SAGE Open 5(1) pp 1-14

Earlier work has tended to overlook the formative origins of child care policy in liberal democracies. Accordingly, this study examines mandate-seeking and parties’ envisioning of child care with reference to issue salience and policy framing in party manifestos in U.K. Westminster and regional elections. It reveals a significant increase in issue salience following its emergence as a manifesto issue in the 1980s, thereby confirming it as part of the wider rise of “valence politics.” The framing data reveal that a “post-feminist” discourse of “social investment” has generally displaced the political framing of child care as a gender equality issue. It is argued that this is inherently problematic and reflects parties’ failure to address ongoing gender inequality in the labor market. Notably, the data also illustrate the way devolution is leading to the territorialization of child care in the United Kingdom—no longer solely mandated in Westminster elections, policy is now contingent on the discursive practices of regional party politics and shaped by local socio-economic factors.