Childcare is a key part of a modern state’s infrastructure: it enables businesses and public services to function, parents to work and improves children’s outcomes and helps narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.
Without affordable childcare provision, the skills of working parents are lost and families are forced to depend on benefits, rather than contribute to the economy as tax-payers. Given how important childcare is to all of us, getting it right should to be a key objective of any incoming government.
Since 2002 the Family and Childcare Trust has undertaken an annual childcare survey – measuring the prices of childcare for parents and the availability of childcare places.
Our latest survey found that over the course of this Parliament, the cost of a part-time nursery place for a child under two has gone up by an inflation-busting 33 per cent. This means that a family paying for this type of care spends £1,533 more this year than in 2010, while wages have remained largely static.
In the last year alone, the cost of sending a child under two to nursery part-time increased by 5.1 per cent and now costs more than £6,000 per year. The cost of part-time care from a childminder has also risen – by 4.3 per cent – to over £5,400 per year.
We also looked at whether there is enough childcare in every local authority. The Childcare Act 2006 requires local authorities in England to make sure – as far as is practicable – that there is enough childcare for working parents, but despite this duty, this year just 43 per cent of councils in England had enough childcare for them, compared with 54 per cent last year. And the situation for disabled children has also deteriorated, with only 21 per cent of English local authorities compared with 28 per cent in 2014.
During this Parliament we have welcomed extra support for parents through the new tax free voucher scheme and a commitment to raise the amount of childcare support in Universal Credit. But, if childcare costs continue to rise at this pace, the benefits of this new financial support to parents will be quickly eroded within the next Parliament.
So, despite welcome government investment in support for parents with childcare costs and the rhetoric of the importance of early intervention, the reality is that for too many families it simply does not pay to work and the childcare system in Britain needs radical reform.
In the short term, we want to see the next Government merge Universal Credit support for childcare with the tax-free childcare scheme to create a single and fair system and extend free early education to cover all two year olds and for 48 weeks of the year for all two, three and four year olds.
But these short term measures will not fix the problem. In the run up to the next general election in May, the Family and Childcare Trust is calling on all political parties to commit to an independent review of childcare funding. Britain needs a simple system that promotes quality, supports parents and delivers for children.