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Controversial childcare reforms reportedly scrapped to tackle rising fees

Written by: Rebecca Goodman
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has scrapped proposed reforms to the childcare sector, including a plan to increase the minimum ratio of children to staff, according to reports.

The plan to increase the minimum ratio, from one staff member per four children to one staff member per five children for those aged under two, were originally suggested by Liz Truss back in 2013 when she was the education and childcare minister.

Once Prime Minister in September 2022, Truss brought this back to the table, with other proposals including increasing the number of free childcare hours available.

But it has been reported in The Telegraph that the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has scrapped these proposals.

UK parents pay highest fees of any developed country

The UK has the most expensive childcare costs of any developed country, according to the OECD, and some parents pay up to 65% of their wages on fees.

The cost of full-time nursery fees for a child under the age of two is £274 per week on average in England. Yet the average take-home pay of a working adult is £418, which equates to 65% of a parent’s weekly wages going on fees.

Costs are also predicted to rise, as the early years sector faces a budget deficit of 8% by 2024.

Proposals to relax ratios criticised as being unsafe

The plan to change ratios of staff to children was expected to save parents around £40 a week if childcare providers passed these costs on. Yet providers are also struggling financially and many have closed their doors because of a lack of funding.

Recent data from Ofsted has also shown that 5,400 providers have shut down in the last 12 months. The number fell to 65,600 in the year to 31 August 2022.

The plan was also slammed by some organisations as being unsafe for young children and not a solution for saving parents money.

The government neither confirmed or denied whether the plans have been scrapped, or if any other proposals will replace them to deal with the current crisis.

When approached by, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We continue to review all options to improve the cost, choice and availability of high-quality childcare for working parents, which remains a priority for this government.

“We have spent more than £20bn over the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare and the number of places available in England has remained stable since 2015, with thousands of parents benefitting from this support.”

Meanwhile, Labour has promised it will reform the childcare sector, including introducing free breakfasts for school-age children, if it comes to power.

‘Deeply concerning if childcare becomes a lower government priority’

Neil Leitch, chief executive officer of the Early Years Alliance, said: “We know that extending the so-called ‘free entitlement’ offers without significant additional investment into the early years would have placed unsustainable pressure on an already-fragile sector, and that relaxing ratios would have hugely exacerbated the current early years crisis and risked lowering quality in settings, all without saving parents a penny. As such, if reports that these proposals have been scrapped are accurate, this can only be a positive thing.

“That said, the fact that these particular policies were non-starters doesn’t mean that early years reform isn’t urgently needed. As such, it is deeply concerning to hear suggestions that the sector is set to become a lower government priority.

“Investment into the early years is absolutely vital to ensuring both that parents – and primarily mothers – can remain in the workforce and contribute to the economy, and that all children, regardless of background, can get the best possible start in life. If that isn’t a priority, what is?”

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