Expert / 12 December, 2019 / Ellie Thompson
With the General Election upon us, the three major political parties have published their policies on the Childcare Sector. Parties have pledged more hours of free childcare and increased funding. In effect, transforming childcare promises into a numbers race. Yoopies UK, an online platform for childcare, explores the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat childcare manifestos to expose how a battle for the biggest figures sidelines the need for a structural change to existing benefit schemes.
The Conservative party manifesto underscores that for “too many parents, the costs of childcare are a heavy burden”, pledging to grant parents “freedom, support and choice to look after their children in the way that works best for them.” Key points are as follows:
Estimated total cost: £1bn
The Labour party manifesto promises “high-quality Early Years Education for every child to make things simpler and more sustainable for both parents and providers.” Key points are as follows:
Estimated total cost: £2.6bn
The Liberal Democrat Manifesto outlines that “free childcare will allow parents to decide on a balance of work and childcare that suits them, help close gaps in education and gender gaps in pay”. Key points are as follows:
Estimated total cost: £13bn
Whilst politicians continue to “one-up” their rivals with promises to parents for more affordable childcare, we mustn’t forget that it is childcare providers that bear the brunt of their proposals. Lily Pryer, Press Relations Manager at Yoopies UK argues: “Racing to offer the most funding or most hours will not repair the current structural problems at the core of the Early Years Industry that desperately need addressing”
In sectors such as transport and housing, integrated open marketplaces permit matching of supply and demand as well as automated payments. Such advances have revolutionised how we experience these industries. However, childcare continues to lag behind. Parents have a fragmented experience of accessing benefits, with multiple entry points and complex paperwork. Childcare providers also have administration to deal with and delays with retrieving payments, with inflexible and complicated payment schedules. Local Authorities are not exempt from difficulties either, and struggle to regulate the delivery of the funded hours.
Undoubtedly, more funding and free childcare hours are a step in the right direction, this however must be accompanied by a greater understanding of the childcare industry by politicians. A study carried out by Yoopies’ highlights the importance of these childcare benefits schemes, yet exposes that the current allowances still aren’t sufficient enough. The Early Years Sector continues to be grossly underfunded, forcing many childcare businesses to consistently raise their fees. In 2019 alone, 23% of childminders have already increased their fees for at least one age group.
Promising increases of free childcare allowances and funding, while a positive step in the right direction, does not in itself make access and understanding of benefit entitlements an easier process. Rather than solely participating in a numbers race, politicians should use the election as an opportunity to better educate, inform, improve and streamline the benefits schemes that are currently in place.
HMRC, the DfE and Local Authorities across England need to integrate online booking and payment directly into childcare benefit schemes, allowing parents to instantly use their allowances as discounts on their childcare payments. For childminders, this integration could mean less paperwork and less need to go back and forth between different platforms to manage payments. As a result, childcare providers would have more time to focus on what matters most: delivering good quality childcare. For parents, Yoopies estimates that the digitalisation of these processes could double the uptake of childcare benefits (as shown by a Yoopies study which revealed that currently 44% of parents find the current system too complicated to use and 83% would use it if it was less fragmented). The possibility for such innovation projects to go ahead relies heavily on the outcome of next week’s election.