Providers raise caution over petition calling for free childcare for babies

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Childcare providers have expressed their anger over a petition that calls for 15 hours of 'free' childcare for babies and has more than 107,000 signatures.

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The petition is quickly gathering in popularity with more than 100,000 signatures

The petition on the Parliament website, which was created last week (18 April) by  parent Harley Cuthbert and calls for ‘free childcare’ for working parents from when a child turns nine months rather than the age of two, has rapidly gathered pace with 107,787 signatures, as of Friday afternoon (26 April).

It will now be considered for debate by Parliament and receive a Government response.

Once petitions on the UK Government and Parliament website receive 10,000 signatures the Government must provide a response. With more than 100,000 signatures, the issue must be considered for debate in Parliament.

On the petition parent Harley Cuthbert states, ‘After 9 months of maternity leave, most working mums do not receive any maternity pay and need to go back to work. I think all working parents should be entitled to 15 hours free childcare from the time a child is nine months. It makes more sense to provide this funding from nine months instead of two years

‘Many working families struggle week to week due to the cost of childcare. You are required to go back to work after a year of maternity pay however many go back after nine months due to funds. Once you go back the majority of your wage goes to childcare and in some cases you are better off not working. This should not be the case.’

Childcare providers on Facebook have however spoken of their frustration at the petition, as they say the idea to give ‘free’ places to babies will lead to mass closures of nurseries, many of which are already struggling financially with the funded 30 hours for three- and four-year-olds.

Jo Morris, spokesperson of Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding (CNLF), and owner of Playsteps Day Nursery in Swindon, said, ‘CNLF has no problem at all with the notion of the Government helping families with the costs of childcare, we know it’s expensive - we pay the bills! It’s expensive to buy childcare because it’s expensive to provide it, our staff teams are, rightly, our biggest cost as we strive to deliver high quality provision against a backdrop of funding that has been frozen since 2017 whilst all our costs have risen.

‘Our concern with any discussion around extending funding to younger children is that the system is already underfunded and putting huge strain on providers, therefore increasing eligibility for funding to children aged nine months and over, without any change in the legislation around it would be impossible for the sector.

'Quite simply, "free" childcare isn’t free! It’s neither parents or providers’ fault that the Government promised something that it couldn’t afford to deliver yet we are caught in the mess that is the current funding system and increasing eligibility, without any other changes to the system would only make this far worse.’

 The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) warned the Government should not loook to expand the 15 hours until it can get the fundning right.

Head of policy and external relations Jonathan Broadbery, said, 'We know that the period following maternity leave can be very tough for working parents. But the fact that places for two, three and four-year-olds are underfunded is impacting on the availability of places and also the costs for looking after younger children.

'Our latest research shows that the hourly rate that the Government pays providers does not cover the costs of delivering high quality early years education for 89 per cent of nurseries. More and more are having to close their doors because the numbers simply do not add up. This causes distress and upheaval for children and families as well as heartache for those who run and work in these settings. 

'The simple fact is that the current policy is not free. It’s not free for parents when places aren’t available or they face additional charges and it’s not free for providers who are left picking up the cost of underfunding.'

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