Labour leader warns that parents face a ‘childcare crunch’

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On a visit to a nursery today, Ed Miliband will say that parents who are struggling to cope with rising bills and stagnant wages, now face an increase in childcare costs.


Ed Miliband at Learning ladders Nursery

The Labour leader will cite various figures, which show that since the last election the cost of nursery places has risen, there are fewer Sure Start centres and a shortfall of childcare places.

Mr Miliband is also expected to say that the Government’s offer of childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds is failing with one in three councils not having enough places.

‘Millions of parents are facing a childcare crunch. The cost of a nursery place is now the highest in history, at more than £100 a week  (Family and Childcare Trust childcare costs survey) to cover part-time hours.

‘Average costs for a full time place are now rising up to £200 or even more. That means a typical parent doing a part-time job would have to work from Monday until Thursday just to cover these costs of childcare.

‘Rising prices have been matched only by falling numbers of places. David Cameron denounced Labour before the last election for warning that the Tories might put Sure Start at risk.

 ‘But an average of three Sure Start centres is being lost every single week (Department for Education figures on Sure Start centres April-June 2010), contributing to a total of 35,000 fewer childcare places under David Cameron. And all at a time when the number of children under four in England has risen by 125,000.’

Mr Miliband will conclude by reiterating how Labour will support families if the party is elected in 2015. The party’s plans include extending free childcare for three- and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents, and introducing a legal guarantee of access to wraparound care from 8am-6pm at primary schools.

Commenting on Mr Miliband's speech, Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, 'We welcome proposals on how to further the availability of childcare. However, when promising to extend the free entitlement, or wrap-around care in schools, policy-makers need to be clear on how they will implement their proposals.
‘For instance, we know that under the current framework for two-year-olds free entitlement, the system is preventing some good or outstanding childminders from being allowed to deliver the free entitlement – even when local councils are struggling to find enough childcare professionals in their area. A lack of consistent application of guidance across the country is preventing many children from accessing the high quality experience they deserve and limiting choice for parents.

'Furthermore, current Government proposals around implementation of childminder agencies look likely to threaten the sustainability of the childminding profession, which is delivering care in the flexible manner that most families need. Despite the wealth of evidence indicating that agencies will not cut childcare costs for families, and are unlikely to drive up quality, the Coalition continues to push forward with these proposals
‘No matter the result of the next election, effective planning and consultation with childcare professionals will be needed to make best use of any extension of the free entitlement.'

Ryan Shorthouse, researcher at the Social Market Foundation (SMF)said, 'Ed Miliband is right that childcare costs have been rising, this has been happening over the last decade. In a survey of parents, SMF found that 55 per cent think cost is the biggest barrier to accessing childcare.

'That said, the state alone cannot solve the problem using Government funding. Alternative approaches are needed such as SMF's childcare loans.

'A big issue is provider sustainability. The Government needs to work hard to ensure that money for places is delivered to the front-line.'

He added, 'Labour's extension of the free entitlement for three- and four-year-olds doesn't resolve quality problems. Parties need to think more creatively to solve this.

'In terms of educational returns, it would be best to use the additional money to fund  places for younger children.'

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice the union, a former local authority childcare commissioning manager, said, 'Politicians from all parties rightly highlight the cost of childcare for parents and the extent of provision, but they don’t talk about the low wages and lack of career opportunities endured by childcare professionals.

'Reconciling cost, quality and childcare careers must be a top priority. Many nursery staff could earn more in low-skilled jobs outside childcare, but they are dedicated professionals who carry on providing a valuable service and often even have to fund their own training.

'If politicians fail to address this issue, it will have a serious negative impact on the recruitment and retention of staff and therefore suppress the growth of the sector. With dwindling numbers of staff, the industry will not be able to meet ratio requirements and so will not be able to expand.

'Not only that, before too long we could reach a point where many staff can simply no longer afford to work in childcare and the sector will shrink.

'Without a significant investment in training, salaries and a career structure for nursery staff, and a registered and recognised status for nannies providing home childcare, plans to expand the childcare sector and raise standards will not only be unsustainable but will fail.'


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