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More than 100,000 sign petition against plan to relax childcare ratios

Written by: Rebecca Goodman
A petition against government proposals to relax staff ratios in early year settings has reached 100,000 signatures – a significant milestone for the parents who launched it after losing their toddler a year ago.

The petition was created by Zoe and Lewis Steeper after their son Oliver died following an incident at nursery on 29 September 2021.

It was set up to oppose the government’s latest childcare plans, which would see the maximum number of two-year-olds per adult increased from four to five in nurseries and pre-schools in England.

The government believes this should help to reduce the current childcare crisis, where parents pay some of the highest fees in the world for childcare yet providers are struggling with everyday costs.

It has predicted this change could save parents £40 a week, if childcare settings adopt the change and pass savings on.

However, the petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures which means it must now be considered for parliamentary debate.

Meanwhile, a consultation into the latest childcare proposals ended on Friday 16 September and the results are expected to be published in the coming weeks.

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng also addressed childcare fees in the small print of his recent Growth Plan.

Within the document it said reforms would be brought forward, although no detail was given about the specific reforms or when this would happen.

‘A mindless policy, that will do more harm than good’

The plan to reduce staff numbers has been slammed by several organisations who say it won’t save parents money, doesn’t help the struggling childcare sector, and puts children at risk.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “The fact that this petition has now reached 100,000 signatures clearly shows how worried both providers and parents are about the likely impact of proposed ratios changes on the early years sector in England.

“Let’s be clear: changing ratios is a mindless policy that will do more harm than good to a sector already on its knees.

“These changes have been falsely sold as a cost-saving measure when, as our own research shows, it will do little – if anything – to deliver savings to parents.”

Back in May after the petition launched, Lewis Steeper said: “After losing Oliver in an early years setting, we feel it’s our duty now to protect other children from people who are trying to overhaul the sector.

“There would be no guarantee if for whatever reason the changes did go ahead that by losing/sacking staff members to save money, any savings would be passed along to parents anyway. Many early years staff are underpaid, overworked and anymore cuts would simply push them beyond breaking point.”

Separate research from the The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) last week found that some parents are paying to go to work, if they work more than 25 hours and pay for childcare.

The institute proposed four changes it thinks will make a real difference to the childcare sector.

These include more investment, an extension of the free childcare hours to start when parents go back to work, usually after nine months, and making these hours available throughout the year, not just in term time.

A nationwide protest is also planned by the organisation Pregnant then Screwed to call for change in the childcare system on 29 October.

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