Government proposals on affordable childcare 'won't work'
Reducing regulation of childminders would lower the quality of care and demand-led funding could increase costs to parents, according to a report from the think tank the IPPR.
The report Double Dutch: the case against deregulation and demand-led funding critically engages with the arguments and ideas put forward in childcare minister Liz Truss’ recent paper Affordable Quality. The main aim of the paper was to reduce the UK's high childcare costs.
The paper suggests that British policymakers should take inspiration from the reforms that took place in the Dutch childcare system in 2005. These reforms focused on reducing regulation, especially on childminders, and on switching to a demand-led funding model for childcare services.
The IPPR argues that the outcomes of the Dutch reforms are not universally positive, and concludes, more generally, that deregulation and demand-led funding are likely "to take the UK's childcare system down the wrong path". It says reducing regulation of childminders (by loosening child-to-adult ratios or ending individual registration and inspection) would undermine quality and parental trust and that a demand-led funding system would not reduce costs or increase quality, but lead to increased costs for government and parents, and to lower quality and diminished parental choice.
It suggests an alternative source of inspiration for British policymakers, the report surveys the Danish childcare system, which, it says:
- offers a universal national entitlement to childcare
- prioritises spending on services over spending on benefits
- fosters a high-quality workforce
- decentralises governance
- maintains relatively generous parental leave and workplace flexibility.
It states: "All this is premised on a broad political consensus and strong alliances, especially in the entrenched social partnership between employers and trade unions, and so would be difficult to import straightforwardly into the British context. However, there are a number of insights that we believe can be gained from looking elsewhere in Europe for inspiration in childcare reform."
Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Preschool Learning Alliance, said, “We have long-argued that as a nation all children should have the best start in life. That is why we welcome this IPPR report as it seeks to place the child at the centre rather than focus on balancing the books.
“It is of course a brave move to suggest that in the middle of a national economic crisis the UK follows Denmark’s early years and childcare model, as to do so would require substantial investment by the Government and a willingness to face up to the reality of funding shortfalls.
“The current reluctance to accept or even explore the underfunding of the free entitlement will hardly inspire providers and parents into thinking that such a radical move would actually be considered but I would be delighted to be proved wrong.
“At the moment we are on the fringes of providing free childcare to 40 per cent of two year olds, whereas the IPPR suggests creating an environment of universal childcare where all children are entitled to a place after their first birthday until they start school.
“The Alliance has been at the forefront in lobbying for universal entitlement. Investment in early years on the scale suggested by the IPPR report would begin to make real headway on the Government’s desire to break the cycle of deprivation and dysfunction through early intervention.
“However, Denmark is reliant on its well-trained and well-paid childcare workforce, with most practitioners holding degrees in child development and earning up to £40,000 a year, whereas here only eight per cent of our childcare workforce are trained to degree level, while 76 per cent have a relevant Level 3 qualification.
“Regardless, at a recent Reform roundtable discussion with Danish Minister for Children Christine Antorini, she expressly stated that despite the difficult economic position, ‘We are investing £59m to improve the child to adult ratios (and) will continue to raise the bar.’
“These are refreshing words, when it would be all too easy to rationalise investment at such a difficult time.
“If we want the best for our children, then we must value our early years and childcare workforce as well. The issue is that childcare in the UK is still seen as a low-pay, low-status sector, instead of a means to give children the best start in life possible.
“It is clear that tinkering at the edges is never going to solve the problem. So perhaps a radical brave approach is exactly what is needed.”