On March 15th, 2023, the UK government announced a series of budget updates outlining their proposed reforms to the childcare system. The changes include a focus on increasing the supply of childcare, providing additional funding to nurseries, increasing staff to child ratios, and expanding the 30 free hours scheme to children as young as 9 months old.
Before delving into the details of the government’s proposed reform of the childcare system, it’s worth noting how significant it is that childcare was a major focus of the budget announcement today. For too long, the issue of affordable and accessible childcare has been overlooked, and parents – particularly mothers – have been left to navigate a system that is confusing, underfunded, and ultimately inadequate.
However, the fact that the government is now recognizing the importance of investing in childcare and proposing reforms is a huge step forward. It’s a testament to the incredible work that organizations like Pregnant Then Screwed and others have done to raise awareness of these issues and advocate for change. Without their tireless efforts, it’s unlikely that childcare would be getting the attention it deserves.
While it’s encouraging that the government is proposing to reform the childcare system and invest in these much-needed changes, it’s important to note that the devil is in the details. One major concern is that the proposed reforms will be significantly underfunded, and may not actually deliver the benefits that parents need.
Therefore we have to ask the question; Will these changes truly overcome the barriers many parents face when returning to work after having children?
The biggest announcement from the budget update was the reform of the 30 free hours scheme. The government announced that the scheme will be applicable from when a child is 9 months old, provided all adults in the household work a minimum of 16 hours per week. However, this will be rolled out in a phased approach, with 15 free hours available for 2-year-olds in April 2024, 15 free hours available for children as young as 9 months old in September 2024, and every child having access to 30 free hours from 9 months old by September 2025.
While the announced changes may seem positive on the surface, there are concerns that they may not fully address the barriers that parents face when trying to return to work after having children. For example, the current underfunding of the 30 free hours scheme means that nurseries may still have to recoup costs elsewhere, potentially leading to increased fees for parents. Additionally, increasing staff to child ratios could exacerbate burnout among nursery workers who are already overworked, exasperating the issues of an already challenged nursery sector.
According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the government’s proposed reforms will cost an estimated £8.9 billion – nearly double the £4 billion that has been allocated. This raises questions about how the money will be distributed, and whether the government is investing in these schemes based on the actual cost to deliver them.
Furthermore, the current shortfall of funding for the existing two, three, and four-year-old free hours scheme is estimated at £1.8 billion. While the additional funding announced today is a step in the right direction, it’s far from what’s needed to put childcare providers on a steady footing and ensure that parents can access the affordable and high-quality childcare they need to return to work.
It’s essential that the government provides sufficient funding to support the proposed reforms, and that the details of the funding allocation are transparent and equitable. Without adequate funding, these changes may not be able to deliver the benefits that parents need, and the childcare system may continue to fall short of meeting the needs of families across the UK.
That being said, there are still some actionable steps that parents can take to overcome the barriers they may face when trying to return to work:
- Research different childcare options: While the proposed reforms may increase the supply of childcare, it’s still important for parents to research different options to find the one that works best for their family. This may include considering childminders, nurseries, or after-school clubs.
- Understand your eligibility for financial support: The proposed reforms include changes to universal credit that may make it easier for parents to access financial support for childcare. Make sure to check your eligibility and take advantage of any financial assistance that you may be entitled to.
- Advocate for the needs of working parents: If you feel that the proposed reforms do not go far enough in addressing the barriers that parents face when trying to return to work, consider advocating for the needs of working parents. This may involve contacting your local MP, joining a parent advocacy group, or sharing your experiences on social media.
Ultimately, while the proposed reforms to the childcare system are a step in the right direction, they may not fully address the barriers that parents face when trying to return to work. By taking action and advocating for change, however, we can help to ensure that all parents have access to high-quality, affordable childcare that allows them to pursue their career goals while also caring for their children.
Take a look at how The Herde may be able to provide support for your family, reducing the cost of childcare through scaling the workplace nursery scheme.