World leading – in childcare costs

The UK now tops the OECD net childcare costs ranking and the Chancellor’s statement doesn’t look like it is going to bring fees down any time soon.



The UK is a world leader, but it’s not a positive. According to the OECD, the UK now tops the rankings of developed nations when it comes to net childcare costs. And there is no sign of that coming down any time soon. Childcare was not mentioned in the Chancellor’s budget yesterday. While there was more money for education, early years is not seen as part of education. Instead it is treated more like a business, even though, without it, many parents can’t afford to work or have to twist and turn their working lives around it, with all the economic costs that involves.

The Government says it wants to reduce the number of economically inactive people, a number which has risen significantly since Covid. Many employers are still crying out for employees and a lack of people is causing considerable burnout, particularly in areas such as care, where it is often accompanied by low pay.

The recession may mean unemployment rises as companies hit the buffers because people can’t afford their wares.But there will still be a significant shortfall in people in the care sector for one, as the number of people living longer but often with chronic health conditions increases.

It is incredibly frustrating that the government doesn’t seem to be able to understand the links between care, the economy and productivity or maybe it does, but the overhaul in mindset that is required just seems too expensive – at least in the short term. So instead it tinkers at the edges – offering non-solutions with potential harmful effects such as lowering childcare ratios.

Childcare providers have been calling for more investment for years – the UK spends a very low proportion of its GDP on early years in comparison to countries like France. So we see smaller providers, often in disadvantaged areas, are going to the wall. Chains can cover the risk better by funding childcare in disadvantaged communities from that in richer areas, but childcare needs to be considered an integral part of the community to ensure its sustainability. For this to happen we need to value it more – not just central but also local government who face difficult budget choices.

What would be good to see is a proper assessment of the value of childcare – not just in monetary terms, including those who drop out or are consigned to low paid, insecure jobs that they can do around family and friends, but in terms of the lifetime impact on people’s life chances and in the stress caused by constantly finding sticking plaster solutions to getting through the next months, weeks or days. We cannot afford to keep kicking the care can further down the road.

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