To the Point - Grannies stuck in the middle

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Grandparents have to make difficult choices about providing childcare, says Vidhya Alakeson

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A May report by Grandparents Plus and Age UK showed that grandparents are now providing more childcare. Three hundred thousand more children under 15 were receiving childcare from a grandparent, usually a grandmother, in 2010-11 than in the previous year. Lower and middle income families are more likely to use this option.

An increase in the use of informal care is not surprising. Few parents have seen their wages rise in real terms since the downturn, but the price of childcare has continued to rise above inflation. This has exacerbated existing trends such as the growth of atypical working hours, to which formal childcare has failed to respond adequately. At least one partner in 75 per cent of families on low to middle incomes works outside 8am-6pm. The introduction of Universal Credit will most likely cause more families to turn to informal care. Although it will provide financial support to families using as little as one hour of childcare, it will be difficult to find providers able to offer only a few hours.

It is likely that the current growth in informal care is helping to keep some parents in work as a strong recovery continues to elude us. However, grandparents, especially grandmothers, are also under pressure to remain in work for longer. The rise in the female state pension age will be damaging for many women if they are not incentivised to continue to save for their retirement.

With the Government expected to announce a consultation on its childcare proposals before summer recess, there is a strong case for assessing whether the tax-free childcare voucher is the most effective way of investing in formal childcare to relieve the tension many grandparents currently face between protecting their own retirement prospects and supporting the need to work of their children.nurseries. But ratios definitely make it harder to tightly manage staffing according to demand and they may, therefore, guard against some of the sharpest employment practices. As Coalition wrangling over the ratio proposals continues, it is worth acknowledging that ratios may have a bigger impact on quality than we recognise.

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