The UK Budget has been scheduled for March 2020, promising a “decade of renewal” and a “new chapter for the economy.” For the increasingly unstable Early Years Sector, the Budget is the last chance for the Government to resolve the current funding crisis and ensure UK childcare remains accessible and affordable for all families in the UK. Should the Budget continue to neglect the childcare sector, Yoopies UK forecasts that childminding may no longer exist by 2036 and that childcare will become an exclusive privilege for wealthier families.
Affordable Childcare: A Pillar of Modern-Day Society
Amidst ripples within the traditional family structure, with over 70% of mothers now in work, the Early Years Industry has become the foundation of modern-day society. Economic growth is increasingly dependent on an affordable and flexible childcare sector, permitting parents to return to work and providing the next generation with their essential first life-skills. Yet, while the need for childcare has risen, access to affordable childcare has declined.
Over the last decade, childcare providers are consistently pressured to raise their fees to keep up with the rising cost of living. As a result, difficulties for families to finance childcare costs are on the rise. In 2019, over a “quarter (27%) of parents” found meeting childcare costs “difficult or very difficult.” With fewer low-cost childcare options, it is the poorest families who are the hardest hit.
The Budget provides an opportunity for the Government to combat the current childcare crisis. However, the sector has yet to feature alongside Government priorities such as increasing the National Living Wage.
Fewer Childcare Places Risks Price Hike
Childminders play an essential role in the Early Years Sector offering a cheaper alternative to nurseries and flexible childcare hours. The upcoming Budget must, therefore, address the alarming fall in childminder numbers to ensure the UK offers a range of affordable childcare options for all families. Since 2006, the total number of childminders has fallen by over half and if this trend continues, Yoopies UK predicts childminding risks becoming an extinct profession by as early as 2036.
Fewer childminders are joining the profession because they have little support to balance the running of their own business and delivering the Early Years Curriculum. Francesca Chong, UK Country Manager for Yoopies UK says “In 2018, the Government scrapped the Childcare Business Grant, the only funding scheme to help childminders start their business. In 2019 DfE proposed higher OFSTED fees. If 2020 fails to encourage childminder numbers, there will be a continued hike in price for fewer childcare places.” As demand increases and supply decreases, childcare risks becoming an expensive privilege for richer families rather than a right for all.
Funding Shortfall Hits Poorest Families Hardest
As well as supporting childminders, the Government must use the Budget to ensure that rising costs keep in line with the funding provided to other Early Years settings such as nurseries. While many workers will welcome the 6% increase to the National Living Wage, for nurseries, introducing a higher living wage exacerbates the gap between the cost of providing childcare and the actual funding that the nursery receives.
Already, many nursery settings have had to find alternative ways to make up the difference between the funding provided by the Government and the cost of providing care. This has included charging parents additional fees and cutting back on resources. As a result, ‘Free’ childcare hours are, in practice, far from free.
Poorer families may not be able to fork out extra fees meaning nurseries in more deprived areas are more likely to suffer. Parents are then less able to return to work and educational opportunities for their children are restricted. Hence, raising the National Minimum Wage without proportional funding measures risks exacerbating a situation in which the poorest children are denied the same start in life as wealthier families.
CEO of Yoopies, Ben Suchar, concludes “The Government’s ‘decade of renewal’ is dependent on accessible childcare. Without significant funding, the next ten years will see poor families remaining poor and a ‘chapter for the economy’ that privileges the rich.