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The balancing act of childcare costs
The Government plans to launch a Commission on childcare, which will look into how to bring down the cost to parents
Soaring childcare costs coupled with the tax credit overhaul have left many parents feeling the pinch.
A large chunk of household income being swallowed up with childcare costs is one of the many concerns that working parents have, but help could soon be at hand following Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to launch a commission on childcare, which will look into how to bring down the cost to parents and increase the supply of places.
In the UK, childcare costs are currently among the highest in Europe as a percentage of parental income.
A recent Daycare Trust report suggests the average annual cost of part-time care for a child under two now tops £5,000, with prices up to three times that level in London.
The Trust warns that, with the rising cost of childcare outstripping wage increases, some parents may be forced out of work.
The new commission, led by education minister Sarah Teather and work and pensions minister Maria Miller, will look at ways of driving down costs by reducing the red tape burden on providers.
A lot of women I know don’t go back to work even if they want to because of the cost of childcare– Baby sign language teacher and mum-of-three Vicki Gilbert
It will also explore innovative schemes to provide ‘wrap-around’ care for children over the age of five at the beginning and end of the school day and during the holidays.
Mr Cameron said working parents “want to know that after school or in the holidays their children will be looked after in a safe, happy environment that is affordable”.
He said the Government wanted to reduce the cost of childcare and to make sure parents can find and afford high-quality nurseries, after-school clubs and holiday schemes.
The commission has been asked to explore the effectiveness of current Government support, due to increase by £1 billion by 2014. It will investigate whether there is unnecessary red tape that could be abolished or rules that could be relaxed.
Emma Toulmin, mum-of-one and manager of Shibden Head Day Nursery and Preschool in Queensbury, says: “I think it is really good the Prime Minister is recognising that parents need help and support. It is really good they are bringing more flexibility to the private sector like us.
Mum-of-three Vicki Gilbert, from Yeadon, who runs Babies Can Sign, an organisation teaching sign language to hearing babies to aid their speech, regularly meets mothers forced to give up their jobs because of childcare costs.
“A lot of women I know don’t go back to work even if they want to because of the cost of childcare,” says Vicki. “They’re making it difficult for people to go to work at the moment, so anything they can do to ease the burden of costs of childcare is brilliant, if it happens.”
Sarah Smith, head of nursery services at the University of Bradford Nursery, says: “Our nursery is here particularly to support student parents, allowing them to obtain an education, and we are currently in the fortunate position to offer them discretionary lower rates.
“However, we offer care on a full-time and sessional basis to not only student users, but also to university staff and the public.
“Currently parents aren’t entitled to nursery education funding until their child turns three – so it would be good to see the Government helping parents with younger children long after maternity and paternity leave has finished.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Preschool Learning Alliance, welcomes the Childcare Commission.
“If reducing the cost of childcare means more investment in early years by the Government, this would be something the Alliance and the entire sector would support,” he said.
“However, it has been suggested that the Government wants to look at deregulating childminders and change staff-to-child ratios so that fewer staff care for more children as a means of reducing costs to parents. We are not convinced that such moves would be supported by the sector and by parents.
“We trust that such speculation will not influence the Childcare Commission before it has even begun its work as the needs of the child must be at the centre of any considerations.”