Who are we?
Childcare For All is a major new campaign to ensure families across the income spectrum have access to personalised, affordable and high quality childcare. It is run by Donna Edmunds, a single mother who lives in East Sussex with her one year old daughter.
What problem are we addressing?
Parents in the UK currently face some of the highest childcare costs in the world, paying out around 28% of the family income in 2011 according to OECD based figures (based on a family income in which one partner earns the average wage, and the other half the average wage). This year a survey undertaken by The Daycare Trust found that a full time nursery place for a child under 2 years old now costs £11,000 pa on average. At the same time, governmental spending on childcare is also unusually high at 1.1% of GDP. Only Denmark spends more, but there the parents’ costs are much lower at 11% of family income.
Lack of affordable childcare presents a very real barrier to work for many parents who would like to re-enter or stay within the job market. Single parents in particular are losing out as they cannot afford to take on a zero-sum job and fall back on a partner’s wages purely in order to keep their careers going. It also presents a problem for low-waged families, with only 27% in this group using formal childcare.
What solutions are we proposing?
Much of this cost is due to ever more stringent regulation of pre-school childcare, with all providers required to follow a complicated curriculum and be subject to inspection by Ofsted, amongst other rules. Since 1997, the number of child minders has fallen from 100,000 to 57,000.
If we want affordable childcare we need to start trusting professionals and parents rather than setting up onerous regulations. Reducing mandatory ratios and introducing childcare agencies will make it easier for people who would like to work as childminders to do so. This would allow families and childminders to make decisions about what is appropriate for the children in their care, rather than bureaucracy making those decisions for them.
How do we expect these to help?
At the moment, childminders are self employed. This means that they have all the worries of a business owner on top of looking after children full time. Setting up childcare agencies will mean that some of the burden of setting up a business will be taken away from the childminder themselves, making it easier to pursue a career in childcare. In addition, the agencies will be free to offer training, and will be well placed to ensure the quality of the staff.
The Department of Education has calculated that raising the ratio from 1:4 to 1:6 for under 3s, and from 1:8 to 1:13 for over 3s would result in up to a 28% decrease in costs for parents (less if some of the extra revenue went towards raising employee wages).These ratios are still more stringent than those in place in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands.
Clearly parents are always going to be very interested in childcare being a quality service. However, governmental regulation is not in itself a guarantee of quality. It is possible for quality control to be industry led, whilst allowing costs to reduce.