Cost of childcare in the UK, in the news – again   Leave a comment

We seem to be going round in circles – the circle of childcare in the UK is the most expensive and the circle of government statements that they have sufficiently funded the so called ‘free childcare’ offer.

Well I disagree with both sides of this and wonder why we keep seeing the same statements over and over again – because after each news story like this, the early years sector will respond and explain

  • that the UK is not the most expensive and that it is a complicated issue to unpick and understand
  • that the government funding is not sufficient

Maybe you have seen the latest news stories on this?

I read this one from the Daily Mail online – but there are others

Lets start with some easy facts

The article suggests that a full time place for an under 2 now costs £222 and it costs the average parents around £11,300 a year – more in London.

As an aside – it actually it says ‘mothers’ but in my opinion it can also be ‘fathers’ or 2 parents who both work. In my opinion the media use the word ‘mothers’ on purpose to pull at heart strings, as do the government but for different reasons as they are trying to get more mothers into work.

In recent weeks I have been doing my own mini research into the cost of childcare as my granddaughter was moving from a childminding setting to a nursery setting.

Of course I realise that my research is only based on one town but it indicates that the average figure of £220 is indeed an average (ish) rate.

Let’s take the yearly figure of £11,300 – lets assume it is for 51 weeks a year and 50 hours a week – so as full time as you can get really. However, I know that often when full time is quoted it is not actually full time but lets go with it being full time as indicated above. And those of you who want to check it with a calculator – it does indeed come out at £221.56 (so near enough £222 per week) and if a 50 hour week, 5 days of 10 hours we get a figure of £4.44 per hour. So far so good – but is it?

No, not really you see most childcare places are for 8 or 9 hours – with an extra charge if need longer hours – so if 8 hour days that equates to £5.55 per hour, and if 9 hour days it works out at £4.93.

However in my area childcare settings are not all charging that much – I saw fees from £32 per day – £55 per day which shows the huge variation in fees, with the weekly rate between £160 – £275 per week

So point one from my mini research, the average cost of a full time place is indeed £222 but most parents do not pay that all themselves – and I will pick that up in a minute.

However for a moment I want to focus on the amount Government pay per hour, per child for funded hours (or as I prefer to say ‘subsidised’ hours)

Based  on the average figure of £222 per week stated in the article – the government are clearly underfunding the so called free childcare / education places as in most areas a figure of between £3.50 – £4.20 is quoted as being the amount settings will receive – and this figure is set to remain at that rate for 4 years.

Most settings that I have spoken to say that they need an figure of about £5 per hour, per child – and using the figures from the article that would seem to a reasonable amount – and to be a average amount, with some needing slightly less and some needing slightly more – as is always the case with average figures.

With a rate of £5, settings could pay their staff a bit more, invest in training – and not rely on the goodwill of managers and staff.

So I have to ask why the Government are not using the figures that are available from facts about what settings charge and indeed need to charge to remain sustainable in the long term. Why are they basing them on figures from 2012? (not sure this is the actual year – this is the year in my head – but I may be out by a year or so). Why is there not any provision for increasing rates as the Living Wage comes in, and other increased costs such as pensions?

It seems to me the Government are not being fair to settings and they know it!

They are expecting settings to continue to subsidise the government, and also parents of those children who are not eligible for funding – as to be sustainable many settings have to charge more for non funded hours than they actually need to cover the cost of that place. This will be even more true when the 30 hours roll out as it will be difficult for settings to maintain occupancy rates due to the difference between the 30 hours and a ‘full time place’ as some parents will manage with just the 30 hours by covering the other hours between themselves or with grandparents help and this will leave odd hours here and there that will be difficult to fill.

Which brings us back to parents – and the amount they pay and the claim in the article  that parents in this country pay more than parents in other countries in terms of % of their pay.

It is very difficult to make comparisons with other countries – some do indeed pay less direct to childcare settings – but they pay more in taxes, and their governments pay settings directly. They also may receive payments through a benefit system, that they then pay to the childcare setting – as does happen in this country. So the headline figure of £222 does not always come direct from parents pay packets. Also in this country and in other countries there are various schemes such a free hours at certain ages; funding direct from Government to childcare settings. So it is all very complicated. Not all parents therefore pay the average £222 per week up front or without any support through tax or benefit systems.

However there is a group of parents who do tend to pay more than others up front and from their pay – that is working parents of the under twos – and as correctly identified by the article. If both parents are working they get less than average in universal credits, they do not get any funded hours until their child is three – and they sometimes have to pay an increased rate to help subsidise Government under funding.

So if Government funded places at £5 per hour per child – actually parents of under threes would not have to pay so much – oh and then that would bring down the average weekly rate and so the average hourly rate would be less when quoted in articles.

However, there is another side – also reported in the media today – pots of money for short term funding – like this one

and there are others – such as the one to support the role out of the 30 hours funding (not yet announced as far as I know) that will be on the same sort of basis as the project to roll out the two year old funding.

And then there are various other pots of money that crop up now and then – and some of these pots are huge – such as the one for the now aborted baseline assessments.

The point I am trying to make is nothing much has changed, there is still a very complex system of funding with those on the ground floor not getting enough, parents having complex systems to navigate, and that often get things ‘wrong’, and funding for things which may support a few – but do little to ensure equality or fairness.

It would – in my opinion be so much easier if childcare settings were funded directly as it would save on the running costs of these schemes, and they would be transparency – and everyone would benefit. Maybe the government can not afford to pay for the childcare of every child – but other countries have systems that seem fair and work. Such as a capped hourly or weekly fee, higher taxes for all but free /  low cost childcare.

There are so many options and although I agree it would not be easy to scrap the current system, in would be better in the long run.

My next point – and apologies for quoting the same thing in many different blogs – we really need to take education out of politics because so much money (not to mention time) is wasted every time a new minister comes in and / or a new government.

Early years should be up to 7 and play based, there should be no testing, and no ‘school ready agenda’. Children, if given time and the right environments will flourish and thrive.

Early year educators for the under 7’s should be trusted to carry out the job they have been trained to do, and are passionate about

Think how much money could be saved if there were no tests, no league tables, no Ofsted visits – but instead  professionals working together across the sector to support each other, share good practice, and ensure every child does matter. Of course safeguarding in the widest sense would remain vital, as would the need for unannounced visits from a regulatory body  if concerns are raised, but do we really need all this box ticking, all this one size fits all and all these targets?

I think not – and the bottom line if we had one pot of money, transparency, payment direct to settings, one system for all …..

……Well I can’t say for sure, but in my opinion – the money would go a lot further, settings would be more financially sustainable and parents would have to pay less – especially parents of under three’s.

And the Government would stop wasting millions on pounds on admin, on changing policies, on schemes and pilots ……

……. so maybe, just maybe it would all add up and the country either spend less on education  or spend the same to achieve more.

At first glance articles such as the ones I read today make me groan in despair – but actually when you unpick them – there are a lot of facts and information which back up what people like me have been saying for years.

My hope is that the new government ministers and the new opposition education MP ‘s take the time to listen to ideas and then be brave enough to stop, reflect and actually make a difference to children and families.

I mentioned in one of my previous blogs that I await a phone call, or an email inviting me to explore my ideas – and those of others – as I am not saying I am right, I am just saying education in this country is not working from Early Years through to university and we are at crisis point.

I am still waiting for the phone call or the email – maybe I will never get invited to take part in discussions – and that is fine – my views are here for all to read.

But please government – talk to the experts, explore ideas, be brave – and those in opposition – what have you to lose by listening and taking your time to think through your ideas – and to challenge government policy that you don’t agree with?





Posted October 11, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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