Campaigners Brand Government’s New Plans To Cut Childcare Costs ‘Woefully Inadequate’

New plans include increasing staff-child ratios, more investment in childminders and encouraging take-up of existing schemes.

childcare costs

by Rhiannon Evans |

A government drive aimed at reducing the cost of childcare for parents has been branded ‘woefully inadequate’ by campaigners.

The government say the raft of measures should reduce the cost of childcare for thousands of parents.

The government proposals include consulting on increasing staff-child ratios in early years settings to reduce cost to providers and parents and a ‘boost for more affordable childcare options [by slashing] red tape to help increase childminder numbers'. There will also be a new £1.2 million campaign to encourage greater take up of £2,000 per year Tax-Free Childcare scheme and the Universal Credit childcare offers that already exist. The government also announced an additional £10 million investment for Maintained Nursery Schools, into the supplementary funding they receive from 2023-24.

Key to these proposals is changing staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds. The government says this will give ‘providers more flexibility in how they run their businesses while maintaining safety and quality of care.’ They continue: ‘Childcare for children aged 0-2 is the most expensive for providers to deliver, largely given the need for higher supervision levels. This could potentially eventually reduce the cost of this form of childcare by up to 15%, or up to £40 per week for a family paying £265 per week for care for their 2-year-old, if providers adopt the changes and pass all the savings on to parents.’

The government has put out a call for evidence, which parents and childcare providers can respond to.

However, the move to change staff ratios has already caused concern amongst childcare campaigners.

Alongside Grazia, Pregnant Then Screwed launched a campaign calling on the government to conduct an independent review into childcare costs. Their CEO and founder, Joeli Brearley said ‘parents across the country will feel failed again’ following this announcement.

Central to Brearley’s criticism is a questioning of those figures. ‘The proposals put forward by the Government are woefully inadequate,’ she said. ‘This is an urgent situation that is forcing families into poverty as they cannot afford to work. None of the proposed schemes will save parents money. Both Pregnant Then Screwed and the Early Years alliance have conducted surveys with childcare providers on the impact of increasing ratios for 2 year olds. In our own research only 20% of providers said that increasing ratios would have a financial benefit to their company, and of those, only 8% said that any cost savings would be passed onto parents. We are utterly bemused by their calculation that this change could save parents £40 a week, as the sector is telling us otherwise. Where on earth have they plucked this figure from?

She added: ‘ We also know that parents do not want ratios to change, even if it saves them money. The notion of increasing ratios, which will inevitably decrease quality, comes at a time when children need the maximum amount of support following the pandemic. England already has the lowest qualification requirements for childcare workers in comparison to other liberal welfare states. We know that highly qualified workers and low child to staff ratios produce the best outcomes for children - under this Government’s plans we will have neither, and yet we will continue to have the second most expensive childcare system in the OECD.’

Speaking about the plans, Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘Every child deserves a great start in life and that means giving families the support they need.

‘Childcare is an integral part of our economy, and these reforms prove again that this government is on the side of working families. I’m hugely grateful to the thousands of dedicated early years professionals who provide daily care and education to our youngest children, which is why I am determined to support them by giving them greater flexibility in how they run their services.

‘This in turn will support thousands of families across the country, helping to develop children’s skills while also supporting parents into work.”

However, Brearley argues that the investment is going in the wrong place.  ‘Tax free childcare has existed for seven years and yet it is repeatedly presented as something new,’ she said in response. ‘Our research with parents shows that many don’t apply for it as it is too complicated or they aren’t eligible. Promoting it will make very little difference. Meanwhile, we know that the issues with applying for the childcare element of Universal Credit are that parents have to pay upfront which they can’t afford to do. Promoting a failed system does nothing to fix it. This Government had had years to come up with a plan to fix our broken early years sector, is this really the best they can come up with?

‘Parents are in crisis. Almost half of mothers are considering leaving their job due to childcare costs, whilst two thirds say their childcare costs the same or more than their rent or mortgage. We don’t just have a cost of living crisis, we have a cost of working crisis. To fix this problem and to prevent more families falling into poverty, we need smart, decisive action. Parents across the country will feel failed again by this announcement, and a Government that does not understand the challenges they are facing.’

Minister for Children and Families Will Quince said: I’m proud of the excellent quality of childcare and early education in England, which is a huge asset to working parents. But too many are struggling to balance work with childcare costs.

‘We know there are thousands of parents who are eligible for government support but not taking it up. That’s why we want to increase awareness of the existing childcare offers, allow providers to provide services more flexibly and make sure funding gets where it is needed most.’

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us