A large number of providers barely make a profit. They would struggle to pay staff more and stay afloat, especially if not doing so meant they lost a major source of funding. But as the pressure to improve quality gathers momentum, we need a better debate about improving pay in the sector.
One in five workers in the UK is low paid - that is they earn less than two thirds of median pay. In childcare, it is half. Low pay would be less of a concern if it only affected young people, but just under a third of those working in childcare who are 26 or older are low paid and about half of them have been low paid for an entire decade. While only 14 per cent of jobs in childcare are paid at the minimum wage, two out of five workers earn less than £7 an hour, far below the Living Wage.
The evidence on quality calls for additional qualifications in childcare to improve outcomes for children. However, the financial reward for gaining skills is very poor. Without adequately rewarding those who go on to get higher skills, it is unlikely that childcare will retain its best people, attract new people and see the improvements in quality that children need to thrive. But in the end arguments about better pay in childcare must go beyond the link to quality, important though it is. Better pay is ultimately about decency for those who play a valuable role in society.
In another part of the caring sector - social care - pay and conditions are arguably worse than in childcare. What is better is the active debate about the need to improve conditions and pay.
If a fairer deal is important for those who care for this country's older people, surely it is just as important for those who care for our youngest citizens.