A mixed picture: the new government childcare policies

It’s been a bit of a week and it’s not over yet. I’ve been looking at the new government childcare policies – the 30 free childcare hours for three and four year olds and tax-free childcare – and we’ve had a lot of response from families who have three year olds. The picture has been very mixed. Some are really benefiting and able to afford extras for their kids, can afford to go back to work, are able to increase their hours or just have some of the pressure taken off them. Others, though, have had trouble registering and accessing the childcare. One woman said she had to make dozens of calls to get through to register. Others have had to move their children because their nursery charges for extras which they can’t afford or limits the hours they can have so they have to pay for additional hours. Others simply haven’t been able to access the free hours.

We’ll be doing an in-depth article on their experiences in the next week.

Meanwhile, childcare providers are worried that they will either have to charge top up fees or risk closure. A Pre-School Learning Alliance survey shows 49% of childcare providers plan to increase how much they charge for additional (non-funded) hours; 52% plan to make changes to what they charge for goods and services, including introducing or increasing charges for meals and snacks (37%) and introducing or increasing charges for trips (20%);  42% don’t feel confident they have enough places to meet demand; and 38% don’t think they’ll be sustainable in 12 months’ time.

So there are winners and losers and the long-term picture is uncertain. We also asked parents about their experience of tax-free childcare. Some have registered, but many have found the process overly complicated and a lot of parents either don’t know about it or don’t understand it. Many think it refers to childcare vouchers which some employers offer so have not looked into it. There is clearly a lot of work for the government to do to simplify the process and to spread the word. People seem to know about the 30 hours, but they are less clear about tax-free childcare. The fact that it is more complex surely means there is an extra need for publicity and support.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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