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Childcare costs cut by £40 a week, but there’s a big ‘if’

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Parents could save up to £40 a week on childcare costs under government plans for early years settings. But the measures have been slammed, and there’s a big catch to the savings.

The government has launched a consultation where it proposes to increase the number of children a single staff member can look after in early years settings.

Currently, the staff-to-child ratio is 1:4. But the government is looking to expand this to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

It said childcare for those aged 0-2 is the most expensive for providers to deliver because of the higher supervision levels.

But these proposals should “drive down costs for providers and parents” as it “could potentially eventually reduce the cost of this form of childcare by up to 15%, or up to £40 per week for a family paying £265 per week for care for their two-year-old”.

However, the department for education, the department for work and pensions and the treasury caveat this with “if providers adopt the changes and pass all the savings on to parents”.

Childminder market

The government said it also wanted to increase choice and affordability for parents by “opening up the childminder market”.

It said that while nurseries are the most popular option for childcare, childminders tend to be more flexible and affordable.

A 50 hour per week nursery place for a two-year-old costs an average of £265 per week, while the average cost for a childminder is £236.

The government will relax the ratios when it comes to looking after their own children or siblings of other children. It will also work with Ofsted to reduce inspection of childminders, reduce the upfront costs of becoming a childminder, greater freedom working in the community and slimming down the Early Years Foundation Stage by a third “to ensure content is targeted and simpler to navigate”.

It is also looking to encourage the growth of childminder agencies to stimulate competition and drive down costs for parents.

‘Drive down quality and fail to lower costs’

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said the government should admit that the sector needs substantial investment rather than waste time consulting on relaxing ratios.

He said: “The idea that any meaningful reform to the early years could be achieved without the government needing to spend a single extra penny is laughable.

“Our own research has clearly shown that the proposal to relax ratios for two-year-olds in nurseries and pre-schools from 1:4 to 1:5 will not only fail to lower the cost of early years places, but in any settings that do adopt the new ratios, will drive down quality and worsen the already catastrophic recruitment and retention crisis the sector is already experiencing.

“Given that data from the parenting group Pregnant then Screwed has also shown that the vast majority of parents wouldn’t want this change even if it did save them money, the question is: who exactly is this proposal supposed to benefit – other than politicians who can use the changes to claim to have done something to tackle the ‘rising cost of childcare’?”

‘On the side of working families’

Education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Every child deserves a great start in life and that means giving families the support they need.

“Childcare is an integral part of our economy, and these reforms prove again that this government is on the side of working families. I’m hugely grateful to the thousands of dedicated early years professionals who provide daily care and education to our youngest children, which is why I am determined to support them by giving them greater flexibility in how they run their services.

“This in turn will support thousands of families across the country, helping to develop children’s skills while also supporting parents into work.”