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Campaigners slam revived childcare ratio relaxation plans

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

The minimum number of children being looked after in childcare settings is set to be increased from four to five per member of staff, according to reports.

The Government has previously said that changing these ratios will save parents money yet many organisations have criticised the proposals, saying they are not safe for children or staff and will not save families money.

The move is likely to be confirmed in the Spring Budget tomorrow, along with a wave of other changes to the childcare sector, according to The Times.

The Chancellor is also predicted to increase the subsidy childcare providers receive from the Government for the free hours some two-year olds and most three, and four-year olds receive. The newspaper reports that this funding will increase by hundreds of millions of pounds.

It has also been suggested that a sign-up bonus will be paid to encourage more people to work in the childcare sector.

Further, families who receive benefits will also receive more money to cover childcare costs, with this money paid upfront.

The changes expected from the Government come after mounting pressure to help both families and providers.

Parents in the UK pay the highest childcare fees of any developed nation, according to the OECD, and three-quarters of mothers say it makes no financial sense to work because of the high cost of childcare.

It now costs an average of £148.63 per week for a part-time childcare place for a child under two, a rise of 5.6% since 2022, according to the charity Coram.

Meanwhile, providers are struggling with rising costs with many having shut down. Early years providers face an increase of 8% in costs over the next year, which is likely to be passed down into higher childcare costs.

Proposals to relax ratios slammed by providers

The idea to relax ratios is not new and was first suggested by the former prime minister, Liz Truss, back in 2013 when she was the education and childcare minister.

At the time it was proposed that the minimum ratio would be changed, from one staff member per four children to one staff member per five children in England.

The Government said this move could save parents money but only if childcare providers, which are currently facing severe economic pressures, pass on the saving to parents.

Yet it has been widely criticised both for putting the health and safety of children at risk and for not actually being a viable way to save parents money. Last year more than 100,000 people signed a petition against the plans to relax ratios. 

When Liz Truss became prime minister the proposal was reintroduced, but these plans were reportedly scrapped at the start of the year.

Other suggestions for tackling the childcare crisis include introducing more help for parents after nine months so they don’t have to wait until their child turns three before they receive free hours, extending the free hours available to stretch over an entire year and not just in term time, and scrapping business rates for private nurseries.

Ministers should think again about this ‘disastrous policy’

Neil Leitch, chief executive officer for the Early Years Alliance, said: “It is vital that any additional investment is enough not only to cover the cost of delivering care and early education today, but that a mechanism is created to ensure that early years funding remains adequate in the future as providers’ costs rise.

“That said, all the funding in the world cannot save the sector if we do not have enough early years professionals to deliver places.

“If the reports that the government is also to proceed with plans to relax ratios is true, we are likely to see more and more early educators leaving the sector in their droves, resulting in a sharp drop in available places and, in the worst cases, further setting closures, with little to no impact on costs for parents.

“Such a move would demonstrate a complete disregard for our vital sector and the quality care and education that our workforce strives to provide to children and their families, and we urge any ministers thinking of pushing ahead with such a disastrous policy to think again.”