If you have a young family or are thinking of having children the question of childcare is a big issue. Childcare in the UK is the most expensive in the world apart from Switzerland. The average UK family spends a whopping 27 percent (nearly a quarter) of their income on the care of their children. But why is it so expensive and what can be done to reduce its cost?
In the light of a recent report, the government is now calling for childcare to be made more affordable. It is considering changes to the system with a big chunk of reform aimed at the care provided by childminders. It is thought by increasing the number of children under the age of five a childminder can look after from three to five will increase the number of places available and reduce costs. At the moment, the UK has the highest ratio of adult carers to children in Europe. The government also wants to cut red tape to attract more people into childminding. But will the proposed changes improve the situation by making childcare more affordable or just reduce the quality of one of the most important services a parent can buy? What kind of balance needs to be struck between affordability and quality?
The picture for childcare provision is not good. In a recent study it was found that there were widespread problems with quality, availability and price. Although the number of nursery places for children has increased since the mid nineties, places with childminders have dropped drastically over the same period. The average childminder earns £11,000 a year and while it seems sensible to increase the ratio of children to adults allowing them to earn more money and attract more people into the profession, the cost of childcare could remain the same if workers were paid higher salaries to look after more children. In the long run it looks like parents could lose out again.
Many would-be childminders have been frightened off because of the amount of red tape involved in setting up and the demands of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. To get over this hurdle it is proposed that a single funding system is introduced and that childminders register with a local agency, nursery or network which would take responsibility for inspection and be regulated by Ofsted. Cutting red tape may lead to lower costs for parents but would this be at the risk of lowering quality of care? The government says it is already cutting bureaucracy and paperwork by slimming down the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum making sure that childcare providers concentrate on language and speech development. It seems a balance between quality and affordability is yet to be found.