The 30 Hours Debate – A Grandmother’s View   3 comments

As a retired childminder, and having being involved with the early years sector for over 30 years, as well as being a campaigner and advocate for children, families and early years settings – especially registered childminders; I fully understand the concerns around the Governments plans to provide 30 hours childcare to parents who meet certain criteria.

The Government are claiming it is ‘FREE’ but it is not as early years settings are having to find ways to cover the underfunding because the amount provided by Government is just not sufficient.

And I fully agree with these concerns – not only is the amount paid by Government often lower than the early years settings normal hourly rate that they change parents for non-funded hours, there are additional costs to settings in administration and ‘jumping through the funding hoops’.

Why should early years settings subsidise the Governments ill though out election promise?

Why should staff working in early years settings, despite qualifications and often years of experience earn a pittance for the highly skilled job that they do?

So yes, I fully understand the concerns around the level of funding, and agree it is not ‘free’

Part of the problem is, in my opinion that the Government have lost sight of why funding is needed and instead of focussing on those children who need it most, and ensuring that an ‘income poor’ family is not a disadvantage in terms of accessing high quality childcare, they have instead decided to impose criteria that means those who are ‘income poor’, are restricted in the help that they can get; while those who are in most people’s eyes ‘doing OK’ get financial help that they not only don’t need, but that really will not make a significant difference to them – or their children.

I really do not understand why those earning good salaries have to work less hours than those earning the minimum wage due to the Government requirement that is based on salary not actual hours worked. This seems to discriminate against those who often work long hours for very little in terms of take home pay, as they will have to work at least 16 hours at minimum wage rate, to claim the funding, while those who earn much higher salaries may only need to work 1 hour a week to qualify for the additional 15 hours of funding for working parents.

No one expects the Government to have a bottomless pot of money, and everyone realises that providing any funding for childcare is very expensive – but surely if the money available was used wisely to support those that need it most, not only would that money go further, it would help reduce the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. In the long term this would be beneficial to society as a whole, as those children supported in their early years reach their full potential will then as adults be able to support themselves and their families and contribute through their taxes to the country’s economy.

I hope that any early years colleagues reading this blog will realise that I agree with them and understand the difficult position that this Government has placed them in. I also understand that they need to remain sustainable and that many of them are worried that they might have to close their businesses – and as a result are desperately trying to find ways in which they can generate additional income.

I have read about, and been involved in discussions around early years settings thinking about charging for ‘additional services’, and also in restricting the hours that parents can use the funding.

And this is where my concerns as a Grandmother come in because I can see that once again it will be those who are ‘income poor’ who will be the ones who this impacts most on. And for me that means my family – my daughters and my grandchildren – not all of them because like all families, my daughters have taken different personal journeys – and so have different lifestyles, incomes and more importantly in this situation different age children, with some being over CSA and some under.

When I resigned as a registered Childminder at the end of March 2016, I planned to semi retire and to do more ‘me’ things such as campaigning and advocacy (as well be fulfil my role as a foster carer).

However, things did not go to plan as two of my daughters were struggling to pay for childcare, and even to find childcare to suit their work hours. So of course I stepped in, and started providing ‘Granny Daycare’ – completely free at the point of delivery. Some weeks I am only needed two days a week, sometimes 5 days a week depending on the days my daughters are working.

Although I love my grandchildren, and will do everything I can to help – it is not quite the same to volunteer to babysit when it suits me, as it is to be reliable, and available at the times and on the days my daughters require childcare. I find it restricts what I can do, and to do things such as going to London to attend events takes a huge amount of organising as on those days one of my daughters has to swap shifts so that they can look after their own child and the child of their sister. And it does not always fall into place.

However – there was light at the end of the tunnel because it was only going to be short term due to the 30 hours coming in – with one granddaughter being able to access from September 17 and the other from January 18.

So you may be wondering what my issue is as a Grandmother – surely the 30 hours is a good thing?

Well, it may not be!

As yet we do not know exactly how things will work out, as like many early years settings those in our area have yet to confirm details of what the terms of them providing the 30 hours will be. This is due to the rate paid by Government only recently being  known, the conditions set by Local Authorities not yet finalised – and so budgeting and working out if, and what ‘additional services’ need to be paid for are still ‘work in progress’

I am in general against ‘additional services’ charges because I think it will create all sorts of issues, and lead to a two tier system with some being able to afford these charges, and some unable to. Even things like lunch could become a big issue with some parents not being able to afford to pay extra for lunch, or some children having a packed lunch from home while others have a cooked lunch provided at cost by the setting. We could even end up with some children having ‘a value lunch’ provided by the setting, while others have the ‘extras lunch’ also provided by the setting.

But my biggest concern is that by having additional services charge and / or restricting when the funded hours can be accessed will mean that some parents may not be able to access the funding in full, if at all – and as a result not only will the parents and children be disadvantaged – so will Grandparents.

Let me explain by using my daughters circumstances as an example, however if should be remembered that in general Grandparents do provide a lot of free childcare, and often a taxi service ferrying grandchildren to childcare and other activities, and so I won’t be the only Grandparent that this will impact on.

One daughter currently sends her child to nursery two days a week, and I provide the other two days. Nursery days are set, while my days can change. My daughter requires at least 10 hours a day childcare, which luckily, the nursery does offer 10 hours per day – but on the days she needs to work longer or travel further – Granny provides support and if a nursery day will take or collect the child to / from nursery.

The plan was that when my granddaughter could access the funding that I would only be required occasionally for extra hours or if the child was too ill to go to nursery. My daughter planned to use her funding over 3 days at 10 hours per day, then pay for the fourth day – meaning her childcare bill would be halved – and Granny could get on with her semi-retirement. Everyone would win.

However, it now appears that this plan is not going to work.

Let’s say the nursey offer the funding as morning sessions and afternoon sessions of 3 hours each, 5 days a week – something I have heard suggested as a solution to the underfunding – because the nursery could charge for the hours before and after the funded sessions and for the lunch period and the lunch itself.

Because my daughter works 4 days she would lose out because the maximum hours she could use would be 4 x 6 – so 24 hours instead of 30 hours. Of course she could send her child for the fifth day just for the funded hours – but the whole point of working 4 days was to spend time with her daughter.

She could of course ask to stretch the funding over more weeks so that she does not lose the additional 6 hours – but it won’t make much difference when looking at the year as a whole.

If she is charged for the other 4 hours that she requires each day and for lunch she could have a bill of £20 or more per day. If she uses the 24 hours over the 4 days and pays for the additional hours this would cost her at least £80 per week – and at the moment she is paying £70 for the two days (to include meals) – so she would be £10 per week worse off !!! Of course she could continue to use Granny Daycare for two days until her child goes to school, and if she did, she would save £30 a week, which is significant and not much different to the saving she would make if able to use 10 hours funding for each of 3 days.

However the big difference is, as Granny I would not be able to close Granny Daycare, but would have to give a commitment to provide Granny Daycare until the child goes to school.

So because the Government are underfunding the 30 hours, my daughter won’t be able to use all the 30 hours and she will have a choice of paying more to use 24 hours than she does now paying in full for two days, or she is going to have to rely on Granny Daycare for at least another year- which she does not want to do, because she knows it restricts what I can do – and as she says ‘Mum, you have done your share of childcare, you should now have time to yourself’

My other daughter is in a slightly better position but will still lose out. She works shifts on a rota basis, including weekends. Weekends are fine as her husband provides childcare and costs are kept down. Currently I provide childcare via Granny Daycare for any weekdays that she works.

Really my daughter needs flexible childcare as her days are different each week, but with the 30 hours she will have to book set days – which means booking Monday – Friday every week. On the weeks she works Monday – Friday she will have a small additional charge for the extra hours in the morning of around £5 per day – so £20 per week (she is able to collect the child at 3pm) – not too bad for the benefit of not having to rely on Granny. But when she only works two or three days a week she will have to choose between sending her daughter 5 days and hardly seeing her due to weekend working, or not using all the funded hours those weeks by not sending her child. This of course assumes that the setting is able to offer the hours she requires.

Both daughters will (as will all parents) have to pay in full fees in holiday periods – even if stretch the funded hours over more weeks, and from what I have read this is another area where settings are thinking of ‘recovering’ some of underfunding – by charging a higher rate in holidays and for younger children who do not access funding. This of course means if either of my daughters have another child, the cost of childcare for the youngest child will be higher than currently charged for the under 3 year olds.

There are many parents with situations like my daughters – and bear a thought for those who are supply teachers, or bank staff, or have a zero hour contract, or work X number of hours per month that requires total flexibility – it is going to be a nightmare to try and meet Government criteria for number of hours worked. Although I know it is possible to submit regular claims / updates, this will involve a lot of extra paperwork, chasing up and trying to get the hours required in a childcare setting – and as we all know, errors can be made that then result in either parent losing out or funding being wasted.

It seems to me that not only is this an ill thought out election promise, the 30 hours is not going to help parents who really need the help, or support childcare settings to be sustainable – or enable Grandparents such as myself to actually have any time to themselves or even be able to choose when they look after their grandchildren.

And as a result ‘income poor’ families will remain so, and those with much higher salaries will benefit in such a small way (in terms of their income) that the Government may as well just burn the money or scrap the idea, and enable childcare settings to run their business in the way they traditionally have done, sustainably while offering a flexible service that parents require.

As with all things ‘One size does not fit all’ and certainly the 30 hour offer does not appear to really benefit anyone.

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