Reflections on the changes to childcare announced

The government reckon that the average family spend 27% of their income on childcare. If wifey were to have a normal job, in our case it would be around 200% of her income, so something definitely needs to change.

Altering the ratio of adults to kids in nurseries, as the government has announced it intends to do, does not however address this. When we were looking for childcare after the boy was born we opted for a childminder in the end because all the nurseries we looked at (and OFSTED thought they ranged from okay to good), didn’t seem to have enough care and attention on the littlest ones. After lunch, all the kids were laid down on mats in a dark room for their nap, in a scene reminiscent of families sleeping in the underground stations during the Blitz.

Kids wandered round, getting into scrapes or being rescued in the nick of time; it just seemed a little bit chaotic, with a lot of the staff being 17 or 18 years old and lacking the experience that a parent would have. Most of the childminders I know are parents, entering the profession because the childcare costs they themselves face are ironically too high for them to go back to work, and so we decided to put our lad with a childminder. He thrived, as did his sister when her turn came.

But the government are looking at upping the qualifications held by new nursery nurses and childminders and increasing the ratio of children per adult. They hope, presumably in some vague, distracted sense that this will drive down the cost of childcare for parents. At best it will see a short term stop in the rise in costs at a nursery but does anybody think for one moment the only beneficiaries will be the owners of the nurseries or to a lesser extent the childminder who will have more children (most I know wont, they want to give good care and two or three kids for 3 days a week still earns them almost £600 a week)?

Apparently a £1.5bn scheme to help middle and lower incomes with child care costs is expected to be announced alongside the Budget in March, likely to be worth at least an extra £1,000 a year for families. So that’s a drop in the ocean of childcare costs then- even when wifey worked part time and we had to. A much better system would be to increase the amount that parents can contribute into childcare vouchers. After all, every parent employed is still paying employees NI and employers national insurance is being contributed by their employer, on top of whatever PAYE they incur. At the moment, there is nothing to incentivise parents to return to work, on top of the prospect of their kids getting even less attention at nursery than they do at the moment.

A case in point is our receptionist who recently found out she would be demonstrably worse off if she came back to work. She wants to work, we’d like her back but under the current system, the child care would be far and away more than she earns working here. A £1,000 here or there wont make a blind bit of difference.