Siobhan Bailey: Hunt must increase childcare in budget. Here’s what to do

Siobhan Baillie MP for Stroud.

My main message to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the Budget approaches is that she cannot avoid childcare. Saying nothing is not an option. It’s a daily kitchen table problem for millions of frustrated parents, grandparents, childcare providers and employers. And a growing group of Conservative MPs are saying the same

Women are now in the workplace in greater numbers than ever before. Men are increasingly taking time to share the care of their children. It’s a staggering amount of progress, and it’s true that job opportunities for women are increasing alongside men. But it is also indicative of the modern situation. It usually takes two working adults to buy a house and struggle to pay the mortgage.

Child care costs at or above the second mortgage level.

I’ve asked the fabulous thinktank Onward to investigate what’s going on. Our report Step One: Fix Childcare Well received by parents, childcare providers and politicians from all branches of Parliament.

The incident is intense. Today, parents pay £1,330 more per year for childcare than they did just five years ago. The average price for a 25-hour-a-week part-time nursery place for a child under two is a staggering £140 a week – double what people pay for their weekly shop.

Full-time childcare is simply unaffordable for most families. Mothers, in particular, complain of being unable to work at full tilt. Six out of ten parents out of work cited childcare as the reason they were not working at all.

recruitment Delight. Growth of the economy. Post-Pandemic Recovery. The road to childcare leads to them all. We’re now completely out of line with other countries: 26 per cent of parents’ combined income in the UK goes towards childcare costs, almost three times the OECD average.

A combination of low public subsidies and an inefficient market has driven up prices for parents. The UK spends less on early years support than other countries, at around 0.5 per cent of GDP, compared to 0.7 per cent across the OECD. Sweden spends twice as much on 0-2 year olds as 3-5 year olds, but the UK spends six times more on 3-5 year olds than 0-2 year olds. The Princess of Wales is promoting that the 1001 days of a child’s life are the most important. He is spot on.

Existing childcare schemes are not working as efficiently as they should, partly due to complexity. The government operates at least eight schemes across three categories to subsidize childcare Confusion about eligibility has also caused major problems: Of the 1.3 million families eligible for tax-free childcare, only 316,000 receive assistance. Only 13 per cent of families eligible for the childcare element of Universal Credit receive it. Chancellor, we need to simplify this mess.

The broader market is also struggling. Since 2015/16, the number of childcare providers has fallen by almost a quarter. The number of children has halved in the last ten years. Providers are also facing severe staffing shortages and are becoming less qualified overall as older workers drop out of the workforce.

I want to get to where we have a simplified system that integrates the current schemes into a single childcare credit system, provides more choice for parents and kicks in support after maternity leave.

However, with the government facing a difficult fiscal situation, it is unlikely that the Treasury will be able to invest in more subsidies in the short term. Any big bang changes should be done carefully in partnership with the childcare sector. Previous top-down, government know-it-alls have not been successful.

So, in and around the Spring Budget, the Government must be clear that we are working towards a transformation of the childcare system. Ministers must ensure the £5 billion that the Exchequer already spends delivers greater value for money and stimulate sleepy aspects of our market. Some of the offers on the provider side include:

  • Increasing the number of childminders by expanding childminding agencies
  • Increasing funding for 15-30 hour offerings to support workforce growth.
  • Unlocking new premises and reforming business rate eligibility for private providers.
  • Reviewing all regulations and requirements to assess barriers to participation in the childcare sector.
  • Exploring greater recognition of early years childcare options, including flexible care such as home childcare for wrap-around support.
  • Increasing on-the-job training opportunities to encourage graduates to enter the profession.
  • Removing unnecessary bureaucracy from existing schemes.

My caution is that if the government changes the ratio rules now, the noise about that will drown out the other positive things we are trying to do in childcare. Further, I have not seen sufficient evidence that a change to the Scotland model would significantly reduce costs, and England’s stricter requirements also require a less qualified workforce than other countries.

Onward’s polling shows parents still have no appetite for reducing child care ratios: 52 percent oppose, just 27 percent support. The childcare sector almost unanimously hates the idea and has told MPs that such a change would compromise children’s safety.

For conservatives, child care reform presents a major opportunity to expand economic and social opportunity, especially for low- and middle-income parents. It’s an opportunity to show how we can grow the economy and support families at the same time. This must be a top priority for this government.