Who are the winners in the 30 hours free childcare debate?
Yoopies issued some interesting research last week and it seems that the 30 hours of free childcare scheme isn’t as great as everyone makes out. Their research shows that the scheme has increased demand for places in nurseries and for childminders, which has caused all sorts of financial problems. In fact, Yoopies research shows that it has had a reverse effect on the price of nannies and babysitters, boosting costs nationally.
A year on from the launch of the 30 hours free childcare scheme, the government is claiming that the scheme has allowed parents and children to reap the benefits of better access to early years education – but in my opinion these claims are debatable.
Looking more closely at the government’s statistics, 340,000 three to four year olds have been able to access a funded place. Of these families only 69 per cent claim they have actually seen their weekly childcare bills fall. But what about the other third of people interviewed? These are the parents who, like me, have been handed over those ‘free 30 hours’ but haven’t seen much effect on their bank balances. With charges for extra hours, food, day trips etc – it makes you wonder what the point of the scheme is?
I had a chat with my daughter’s nursery manager about it the other day and she agreed:
‘The council funding only really covers half of our hourly fee per child so it’s really hard for us to cover our running costs. We must make up those costs elsewhere or we will go bust – the easiest money makers for us are nappies, lunches, excursions or overtime hours. With these charges thrown in, many parents just cannot reap the rewards promised by the 30 free hours scheme’.
There must be so much pressure on nursery places now across the UK – especially with the 30 hours scheme increasing nursery closures in England by a huge 47 per cent. Many nurseries and childminders have even refused to offer 30 hours funded places through fear of financial ruin.
Sadly, for many parents the 30 hours free childcare scheme is not really an option – their working hours are just too long for nurseries to offer what they need. So for many parents, the only option is to turn to other forms of childcare – nannies, of course are ideal as they offer flexible care. The increased demand for nannies is clear with in home childcare prices, according to Yoopies, rising by 4.1% in the last year and families spending an additional £68 per month on average on in-home care.
I can really relate to this as last year, when my youngest daughter was eligible for funding, I got a job in London. Four day a week, I had to leave home at 7.45am and get back at 6.15pm so the hours were long. I tried local nurseries but no one could accommodate these hours and times, they had all become oversubscribed since the 30 hours’ free scheme had come along.
So I had to find a nanny, she could come to my home 15 minutes before I left and would leave once I was home – it was ideal, but it came at a cost. £8.50 per hour to start with plus sick days, holidays, tax and overtime. After a few months, she asked if she could increase her pay to £9 per hour as all of her nanny friends were earning more than her. Eventually, by the end of my contract I had barely made any savings as there was no funding available to me to help cover costs, apart from a small amount through the Tax Free Childcare scheme.
There are thousands of working mums in the same situation as me but the government do not currently offer 15 -30 hours funded hours for those using nannies. Surely this would be an ideal way to alleviate the pressures felt by nurseries and preschools and allow nanny care to be more accessible.
According to Yoopies’s research, the introduction of the 30 hours scheme has actually had a significant, negative effect on in-home childcare prices overall. The formula is simple – with fewer nursery places, parents increase their use of nannies leading to increased demand and higher hourly rates. So much so that the research shows that nationwide costs have on average increased by 4.1 per cent.
The big question is how can the government make it easier for mums who work long hours to receive funding? For many full time roles are just not an option, unless family or partners are based nearby. Parents really shouldn’t be forced to work shorter hours or take lower paid options for the sake of a badly funded childcare system.