The Continuing Saga of the Childcare Cost

February 20th 2023

We have been raising the issues of childcare funding for over 10 years. It has been so long, I am amazed at how patient I’ve remained – and I’m not usually that patient. I get an itch waiting in queues.  But apparently campaigns can take this long before people are ready to listen.  It also takes time to collaborate and align the efforts of individuals, businesses, industries, governments, and everyone else you need to understand the issue. Plus, we have had to undo so much meddling along the way from approximately 16 Childcare Ministers in the UK – each trying to outdo each other with their lack of competence, engagement or comprehension. Remember the ratio, OBC, staffing qualifications to name but a few, as Frank Sinatra would say!  

Most of you who know me will realise that I have stuck to my guns about high quality education and care, providing access for disadvantaged children and ensuring that we have a strong pedagogy to ensure great Early Years teaching. So, this week, I added my signature to a letter in the Observer summarising new research from the money-saving app, Plum which was conducted with parents.  There is nothing new in the letter, just a reiteration of the unsustainable childcare cost challenge which is even tougher now that parents, nurseries and childminders try and balance their incomes against the increasing cost of living.

Here are the main points: 

  • The UK is the third most expensive country for childcare, according to the most recent OECD figures.  
  • One third of parents interviewed by Plum are having to scale back on essential items such as groceries to pay for childcare – with 1 in 5 paying between £800-£1,200 per month on childcare.  
  • Parents aren’t able to access the support they’re entitled to with 70% saying that information available about childcare allowances is inaccessible or confusing.  
  • Parents could see an increase of 10%+ in their costs as nurseries are forced to increase fees to make ends meet.  
  • Government investment in childcare can help balance the books, support growth and loosen the labour market which has been a major driver of inflation.  
  • The thinktank IPPR has estimated this could enable the Treasury to recoup an extra £8 billion a year from increased tax and national insurance revenues and from lower social security payments.  
  • The IFS concluded that the single key factor in helping women remain in the labour market is full-time free childcare rather than part-time. With more women also able to work full-time, they may be able to advance their careers further and faster, helping to both address the gender pay gap and fill gaps in the job market.  
  • Higher quality Early Years education and care supports children’s educational attainment and wellbeing, positively impacting their future opportunities. 

I rephrased a few of the words in the letter to make it crystal clear for those new to the world of childcare and Early Years. For example, the term ‘free’ can be misleading if you don’t understand the reality which is that nursery places cannot be free because they are significantly under-funded.  This is even more of an issue if, like us at LEYF, you are also trying to ensure you subsidise places for children from disadvantaged families to even out the inequity in the system where fewer children from those communities can access places. This is either because no one can afford to operate there or the places are too expensive.  For example, in London, this is what it looks like! 

Also, I inserted education before care because the two are interconnected; teaching is what we do because you cannot teach without caring and vice versa. Many of you are now following our lead and calling your staff ‘teachers’ – irrespective of their qualifications because it describes what they do! Yes, we are always teaching and loving and caring. It is the philosophy of care that will save humanity for Chat GBT! 

Here are the asks from the Plum research:

  • Launch a campaign to better communicate the support available currently.
  • Reform the currently complex provision of tax credits and childcare vouchers, making it easier for parents to access support.
  • Increase funding to childcare providers providing Early Years support to help deliver higher quality education and care and expand the free hours provision to children aged under two years old.
  • Double universally available funded childcare for two-, three- and four-year olds from 15 hours to 30 hours per week.
  • Increase the eligible number of weeks for funded childcare from 38 weeks a year to include school holidays.
  • Press ahead with the legislation to make the right to flexible working from day one statutory.
  • Explore ways to encourage businesses to make childcare part of their structure, whether through onsite or local provision or through tax incentives.

To capitalise on the energy of those who are now beginning to understand the issues are complex but achievable, I ask you to bolster every effort.

If you don’t know where to begin, follow me on twitter  as I tend to share activities and campaigns and make it easy for you to connect.