The majority of working mums say they have benefited from the 15 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds, though only 4% say it has meant they have been able to go back to work, according to a Workingmums.co.uk poll.
The poll of 361 working mums found 40% of mums said the free 15 hours had had no impact on them, while 21% said they had been able to increase their hours and 35% said it had eased family costs in general.
The poll comes after research by the Institute of Education and the universities of Surrey and Essex found that the £800m a year programme of free nursery places, introduced in England in 1998, only helped a small number of women back into work and had “a small beneficial impact” on children’s development at the age of five, but this impact disappeared by the time they reached 11.
There was “modest” evidence that the policy had more impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged children, but the effect was not lasting, said the report.
Many of the women who responded to the Workingmums.co.uk poll said that the 15 hours were not sufficient to take into account communting and working hours to be useful.
One said: “The 15 hours would not fit any work schedule, even if you work from home and you are self employed. What work can you do in 3 hours a day? I work from 9 to 5. Nursery place available was 3 hours early afternoon. My son would spend the whole day with a childminder who would take him to the nursery and collect him. This meant that I still had to pay for the full time place with the childminder (1k per month and that was cheap)… I am not sure for who it is this system where you end up spending £200 a month just to travel to work plus £1k at least for childcare and you still have to rush around to get to work on time, to pick up the child on time. Plus, the childcare hours means that the location/time of commuting to go to work becomes a very important fact.”
Another said: “I think the only people for whom the 15 hours free childcare entitlement makes a difference are people who have a very scaleable self-employment. If you are employed, there is no way you would be able to do any work within the hours given. The average commute in London is 55 minutes. Furthermore, in London you do not actually get 15 hours free childcare, but a subsidy for some of the cost towards these 15 hours. It’s still extortionate and the economy is suffering as a result.”
Yet another said: “Fifteen hours of free childcare is useless.There are no jobs that can fit round these silly hours.David Cameron needs to look into helping working mums a great deal more than this.I just find it quite funny that in some parts of England they now allow free 15 hours for 2 year olds. However, you have to be earning less than £16,000. Absolute JOKE.”
A preschool owner disagreed. She said: “If you choose a day nursery or child minder instead of the school nursery they allow you to use your 15 hours however you want, for example, for two full days rather than five mornings or afternoons. I own a preschool and most of my parents take advantage of this to go to work part time and they pay nothing.”
There was disagreement about whether the government should give more support at an earlier age too. One mum said: “I agree that if the government wants mums to return to work there should be more support as soon as maternity ends rather than when kids hit 3 years. I don’t understand the logic behind this at all. I also believe that private nurseries should be controlled much more as some of their charges are just stupid. How can mums be expected to ideally return to work full time yet pay £1000 per child in childcare? It makes it pointless. Over all I think the 15 hours are great and certainly helped our family budget, but maybe the structure of it could be revisited.”
Others felt school should start earlier or that support should be given to parents to give them the choice to stay at home until their children started school. Another mum said she felt children shoudl be with their parents until they were two, but she understood that work was important for women’s mental health.