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.

What are parties proposing?

Conservatives

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.”[1] Key points are as follows:

  • A £1bn fund dedicated to more high quality, affordable childcare, before and after-school and during the school holidays for “wraparound childcare”[2]

Estimated total cost: £1bn[3]

Labour

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.”[4] Key points are as follows:

  • Fund 30 hours of free childcare for all two-, three- and four-year-olds and access to additional hours at subsidised rates “staggered with incomes”[5]
  • Transition to a “qualified, graduate-led workforce” by providing free courses for childcare providers[6]

Estimated total cost: £2.6bn[7] 

Liberal Democrats:  

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”.[8] Key points are as follows:

  • 35 hours a week of free childcare for 48 weeks a year for all two-, three- and four- year-olds in England[9]
  • 35 hours a week of free childcare from the age of nine months to two years for working families[10]
  • Increase the funding for free hours to cover the cost of nursery provision[11]
  • Require all Early Years settings to have a training courses, with the majority of staff working towards an Early Years Qualification.[12]

Estimated total cost: £13bn[13]

Does more money mean an improved Early Years Sector?

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.[14]

Politicians should prioritise digitalising access to childcare benefits

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.

References
[1] Source: Conservative Manifesto 2019
[2] Source: Conservative Manifesto 2019
[3] Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies
[4] Source: Labour Manifesto 2019
[5] Source: Labour Manifesto 2019
[6] Source: Labour Manifesto 2019
[7] Source: Institute For Fiscal Studies
[8] Source: Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2019
[9] Source: Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2019
[10] Source: Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2019
[11] Source: Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2019
[12] Source: Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2019
[13] Source: Institute For Fiscal Studies
[14] Source: Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers 2019

 

About The Author

Ellie Thompson
Editor & Blogger

Editor of My Baba and blogger. Currently on the IVF journey, documenting the process step-by step in addition to exploring how to prepare your body for pregnancy, what foods we should be eating, and any technique going that will lead to that positive pregnancy result!

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