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Childcare provision: still an issue

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childcare survey, childcare costs, Coram Family and ChildcareNot only the cost: many parents struggle to find any childcare at all.

The first National Women’s Liberation Conference, which took place at Ruskin College, Oxford, in February 1970 was conceived by Sally Alexander and fellow historian Sheila Rowbotham as an event to look back at women’s experiences across time, but it attracted far more participants than the organisers expected, and the focus shifted from past to present, ending with demands for the right to equal pay, equal employment opportunities, free contraception and free 24-hour nurseries.

But Coram Family and Childcare’s 20th annual Childcare Survey, released in February 2020, has found that childcare costs have risen well ahead of inflation, and the cost of a part-time nursery place on average £131.61 per week, or over £6,800 per year, and childcare for the under-twos is also 5 per cent more this year than one year ago.

The country’s most comprehensive annual survey of childcare costs, published this week, also reveals that childcare prices and availability vary significantly around the country.

The most expensive regions in the UK are London and the South East, where the cost of a part-time nursery place for a child under two is £165.47 and £144.90 per week respectively; the least expensive regions – £116.25 in the West Midlands and £113.76 in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Nor is cost the only issue: many parents struggle to find any childcare at all – and availability has improved little on last year.

In England, just over half (56 per cent) of local authorities have enough childcare for parents working full-time, compared to 57 per cent in 2019.

Some families face even bigger gaps, as fewer than one in five local authorities in England have enough childcare available for children aged 12-14, children with disabilities or parents working outside regular office hours.

The lowest levels of availability reported are in the East Midlands and the East of England.

The report also highlights that although most families can get some support with their childcare costs through cost subsidies or free entitlements, the system is too complicated.

In England alone there are seven different ways, each with different eligibility criteria, which can leave parents at risk of missing out on the support they are entitled to.

The Childcare Survey 2020 has suggested what the Scottish, Welsh and UK governments can do about this:

Reform Universal Credit so it doesn’t lock parents out of work: increasing the maximum amount of childcare costs paid under Universal Credit and moving to upfront payments for childcare;

Regularly review the funding rate for free early years entitlements to make sure that they meet the cost of actually providing high quality childcare;

Extend the 30-hour free childcare for three and four year-olds in England and Wales to families where parents are in training, to help parents get better jobs;

Double the early years pupil premium, to boost outcomes for the most disadvantaged children; and

Reallocate any underspend against the budget for Tax-Free Childcare to other parts of the childcare system – and focus this on the most disadvantaged children

Claire Harding, Head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Good childcare is essential: it enables parents to work and boosts children’s learning.

“But for far too many families in the UK, it just isn’t working.

“Recent government investment is welcome, but many families still face crippling costs, especially in the period from the end of parental leave to when a child turns three.

“There are seven different types of childcare support depending on families’ individual circumstances, and many parents find it difficult just to find out what is available to them.

“Investing in childcare supports is good for us all because it helps parents to work now, and boosts children’s learning and skills for our future.

“We are,” she said, “calling on government to reform and simplify the childcare system so every parent is better off working after paying for childcare, and every child has access to childcare which supports their learning and development.”

The full report is available to read here.

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