Voices: This government is underfunding ‘free’ childcare – leaving parents to pick up the pieces

·3-min read
This crisis, like so many which families are facing, is being made worse in Downing Street (Getty Images)
This crisis, like so many which families are facing, is being made worse in Downing Street (Getty Images)

Every parent and carer will know the constant juggling that comes with raising a family. Throughout children’s earliest years, then the routine dash out of work to meet them at the end of the school day, childcare is a constant balancing act.

For many parents these daily struggles are becoming so overwhelming and the costs of childcare spiralling so quickly that they’re being left with no choice but to cut down on hours or give up work altogether. I’ve heard time and again from parents that they’ve had to give up jobs because it makes no sense to go out to work when childcare costs more than they’ll bring home.

This is born out in a recent survey over 4 in 10 parents said they’d had to change their working hours or leave their job due to childcare pressures. And what’s even more concerning is that others have simply been priced out of parenting, with 79 per cent of mums surveyed citing childcare costs as a barrier to having another child.

While everyone is aware of the growing crisis around gas and electric bills, rising food prices and housing costs, for many families finding affordable available childcare is at least as difficult. And it’s no wonder. The cost of an average full time nursery place for a child under 2, has risen by nearly £1,500 over the last five years, while the cost of after-school clubs has risen faster than wages with families typically spending more on a week of after-school activities than on the weekly food shop.

This crisis, like so many which families are facing, is being made worse in Downing Street. The Conservatives are underfunding the “free” childcare hours mostly for 3 and 4 year olds by over £2 per hour. Ministers know this, they added up the cost and then provided less funding. That’s forcing childcare providers to cross-subsidise, charging parents through the nose to cover the black hole in government funding. It works for no one.

And ministers’ proposed solution to these daily struggles? Increase the number of children each staff member can look after. Lowering the quality of care, despite no serious evidence this would tackle the problems of price and availability. Quite simply the government is advocating that parents continue to pay more but get even less.

When I’ve been out across the country during this election campaign, the cost of living crisis has been a worry for people everywhere.

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Labour is calling for an emergency budget to deliver real action to help families. As North Sea oil and gas companies report having more money than they know what to do with, Labour is pressing the government to deliver a windfall tax on their profits to raise money to cut household bills.

And we’d be going further, our Children’s Recovery Plan would deliver free breakfast and after-school clubs for children whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by Covid, easing the pressure on parents and giving children new experiences and the opportunities that complement classroom teaching and help build resilience and social skills.

Supporting families to thrive should be at the heart of any government’s ambition for Britain, but the Conservatives are making life harder with fifteen tax rises pushing already stretched family finances to breaking point.

With the cost of living crisis on the ballot paper, Thursday is a chance for families to tell failing governments in Westminster and Holyrood that Britain deserves better. The choice is simple: it’s Labour that is on your side.

Bridget Phillipson is shadow education secretary and the Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South

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