Are childcare ratios under threat again?

The Government is apparently considered again at increasing the number of children each member staff can care for as a way of addressing childcare underfunding. But experts warn this could increase recruitment problems.

evidence about childcare

Teacher and adorable children being creative with colorful pencils at kindergarten

There have been a fair few reports about childcare in the last few weeks, all of which more or less say the same thing. The sector is struggling, childminders are leaving in large numbers, some nurseries are closing, childcare provision is patchy – especially for special needs children, the children of parents who work full time, older children and school-aged children [in terms of after school care], childcare provision is expensive and likely to get more so. Another major feature is that morale is very low and nurseries are finding it harder and harder to recruit people.

So, what is the Government’s response? Childcare barely gets mentioned in any of the major announcements. It seems to be seen as a side issue, even though it is surely central to the cost of living crisis, given that parents need childcare to be able to work and grandparents are working longer or not retiring at all. Everything is connected, of course. We saw that clearly during the pandemic when workingmums.co.uk and various other organisations were inundated with questions from parents about how they could possibly work without childcare – not just the formal kind, but the informal kind on which so many parents rely due in large part to the cost of childcare in this country. I recall having a conversation with a relative in Spain about childcare. She was complaining about the cost there. It turned out to be a fraction of what I was paying. Childcare costs do not have to be as high as they are. It’s a choice that has been made.

Last week there were suggestions that the Government is once again looking at increasing the number of children each member staff can care for in pre-school settings as a way around the issue. Early years experts say this is unlikely to be a solution and could endanger children. Indeed, it emerged yesterday that a government-commissioned report has warned that loosening the regulations could increase the staffing crisis, leading to more staff leaving, with no guarantee that any savings would be passed on to parents. An Ofsted report out today on the Covid impact on childcare says some childcare providers are already seeing their ratios being squeezed due to rising numbers of children and recruitment problems.

So much of what we are seeing is not the result merely of Covid or rising energy prices. It is linked to a cumulative pattern of defunding childcare at a time when families increasingly cannot afford for one parent not to work and when more women want to remain in the workforce. It’s not enough to tinker at the edges. The same applies to many aspects of public sector funding as an event I am organising at the Cambridge Festival tonight shows. It’s hard to believe that the rise in taxes that have just come in for health and social care will do much to resolve the issue of social care. Many believe that social care will not see much of the money. That will again put more pressure on women, unfortunately, because they tend to be the ones providing the more complex social care, often on top of work and childcare.

Something has to give. If it is women’s health that will affect the whole infrastructure on which society is built.



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