The childcare discussions have moved on this week to the Budget offering for childminders.
It’s been a slow news week for parents after a hugely busy few weeks/months in the lead-up to the Budget. Childcare is still bubbling under as everyone regroups. There have been a few reports on childcare – one on worries that the £100K cap on those who benefit from the ‘free’ 30 hours for three and four year olds may deter wealthier women from returning to work; another showing that 84% of the public agree that government should fund minimum levels of provision for early years; and reports that Rishi Sunak’s wife owns shares in Koru Kids, one of the childcare agencies which will benefit from the childminder payment scheme announced in the Budget. Koru Kids is one of a number of app-based childcare providers that have sprung up in recent years to fill gaps in childcare provision, mainly in wealthier locations.
Nesta recently announced a £1m investment in them too, saying: “Not only does success with this venture benefit children and parents returning to work, it will also upskill and build confidence in a new generation of childminders to earn a higher and more stable income.” Is this likely to be the future model of affordable childcare? There are, however, a lot of questions about that model. An LSE academic, Dalia Gebrial, for instance, tweeted: “The company – Koru Kids – is an app-based childcare platform that brings gig economy conditions to the childcare sector. It is bad for childcare workers and bad for children. These apps have emerged because of a decade of austerity. These apps have had no luck in countries like Germany and Finland where there is a well-funded, comprehensive public childcare system. This is what austerity was designed to do. It’s about destroying the public sector so private finance can fatten itself off of people’s desperation for basic services. It’s not corruption – it’s privatisation/financialisation of the public sector through the back door. Under the guise of ‘consumer choice’.” Dalia’s work focuses on the platform economy.
And questions were raised about whether offering new childminders a £600 bonus through a pilot scheme and double for those going through an agency would stem the flow of people leaving because it only addresses recruitment rather than retention, including ongoing issues of underfunding. Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, described it as a ‘token offer’. I was speaking this week to a start-up company in Switzerland who offer loans to parents to fund childcare so that they don’t have to pay the full cost of childcare when they may be least able to and can spread the costs over a much longer period. Could that be a solution, even if it is only temporary? In the UK the only parallel is the Greater London Authority’s decision to give parents a loan to cover childcare deposits.
What is sure is that we need to buy ourselves some more time to do some serious thinking about the future of childcare, both in terms of cost and quality.