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The Easter holidays start today in many parts of the UK, but many parents are struggling to find childcare to cover the holiday period and after-school care.
Brexit, funding cuts and changes to benefits are all fuelling a crisis in after-school clubs, which in some parts of the country are struggling to stay open.
The news comes on the back of recent figures released by Coram Family and Childcare, which show that the cost of
childcare is once again on the rise. Combined with a lack of adequate provision, especially in the South East and London, it’s little surprise that 44 % of those surveyed for workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey struggle to find sufficient after school and holiday care.
The Coram survey shows that only one in four local authorities have enough after-school provision for parents working outside traditional office hours or disabled children. Despite this, a significant majority of three and four year olds are being catered for through universal entitlements.
Catherine Wrench, director of the Out of School Alliance, says one of the biggest problems with after-school clubs is staff retention. “People qualified in childcare gravitate towards nurseries. Three hours [after school hours] on minimum wage isn’t enough to keep anyone going.”
Wrench says that staffing issues have been compounded by Brexit. “A lot of Spanish students were keen to work in childcare and filling in the gaps, but they’re no longer coming to the UK – [politics] is really exacerbating the problem and that means if you can’t get the staff, you’re going to have a shortage of childcare.”
Meanwhile, she says that the funding crisis faced by schools is forcing many to close privately-run clubs in favour of ‘running things themselves’.
She says: “Many [schools] don’t appreciate the work that goes into this … they find it’s not quite the cash cow they had in mind, but with changes to the funding formula, schools are desperate for cash.”
Coram’s findings show a place in an after school club for 15 hours a week costs parents about the same as they spend a week on food, discounting holiday and breakfast clubs which are often necessary if parents work a standard 9-5pm.
This is forcing parents to reconsider care, says Wrench, and to consider a mixture of after-school clubs, hour-long activities such as Judo and asking relatives to help out to save money.
Key findings of the childcare survey:
Head of Coram, Megan Jarvie, says parents who freelance are having to cut back on work to manage because many providers need them to book fixed days of childcare and pay for childcare when they don’t need it. Many are turning down work during holidays. Meanwhile those on fixed contracts are being forced to take time off. She adds: “Rural areas face their own problems: there’s not always wraparound care available, so they’re often forced to travel further and to use less trusted forms of childcare outside traditional hours.”
Lone parents are another group of parents who have been badly hit by recent benefits caps. Those unable to work traditional nine to five hours or freelance continue to struggle to find affordable care, especially in holiday times.
“At school age – you pay per term and during holidays. That means for those on benefits who go into work, even when the support you need gets agreed, it often doesn’t hit your bank for a few months and by then, it’s too late to be of any assistance,” says Jarvie.
Lone parents’ charity Gingerbread sites examples of benefit caps affecting lone parents, such as Sally Hillier, who, unable to afford childcare so she could work, ended up being evicted and is now struggling on £7 a day with her four children.
Head of membership, Anant Naik, says benefits are essential to ensure single people could work. “Single parents can’t ‘shift-parent’ in the same way couples do in order to manage school pick-ups and drop-offs. The lack of affordable and flexible childcare available locally prevents them from entering (or re-entering) work.”
Increasingly solutions to afterschool care, especially for those who need ad hoc care, presents itself in the form cheaper private nannies which connect students with parents needing care.
Organisations such as Student Nannies or Koru Kids work for many, but charge anywhere between £8 to £16 an hour, which is often unsustainable in the long term.
A number of initiatives exist to help parents, especially low-income parents, to manage. Inner London council Camden for example, offers subsidised childcare, charging better earners the full price. Meanwhile, parent-initiative Kids’ City, which runs in 13 areas across deprived parts of south London, helps 600 low-income families with extensive wrap-around care running until 7.30pm. It also offers those who struggle most one free day’s childcare a week.
However, perhaps the most innovative initiative is the Tarner Community project based in one of the most deprived and worst-serviced parts of Brighton.
The project not only offers wraparound care but in emergencies it offers 24-hour care. It provides places for children from four to 19, and each after-school club offers every child a free, hot, two-course meal. As a not-for-profit organisation, it offers a sliding scale of fees and for families in crisis or those looking for employment, it offers free places.
Chief executive, Emma Jacquest, says she has seen more families than ever using the service since the introduction of Universal Credit. “Because of this, we’re seeing more working families really struggling the need for our services has dramatically increased, so much so we now offer a food bank for those that need it most,” she says.
She adds: “We are one of the few places that run a young person’s (13+) project, holiday groups and one-to-one groups for older children.
“We offer services right the way through from four to 14 – as funding does not usually cover those aged 12 and onwards – childcare usually ends at 11. But this is the transition point to secondary school and puberty and we believe it is essential to include this age group,” she says.