Full provision of free childcare would boost the economy

For many households the cost of care can amount to a second mortgage or rental payment every month

Wednesday 24 February 2016 01:21

The cost of childcare is almost uniquely high in the UK among Western nations – only Ireland charges comparable rates for two- and three-year-olds in full-time day care. It is a drag on our economy and a drain on family budgets. For many households the cost of care for their young members can amount to a second mortgage or rental payment every month.

Aware of the role that good-quality and affordable care plays in bringing parents, and especially women, into the workforce, the Conservative Government committed to providing 30 hours free of charge for every pre-school child aged three and above. It was another example of a fag-packet calculation: while the policy was right-headed, it was never deliverable.

As we report, 41,300 children are missing out on free places because there are not enough nurseries or childminders with which to place them. Just 45 per cent of councils report sufficient childcare available for parents who work full time, despite their obligations to make sure there are enough places under the Childcare Act 2006.

Where free provision is not available, parents face a difficult choice: invest up to a third of the average salary in continuing to pay, or spend less time at work. Both pose risks to a family’s finances, and with house prices also rising, mean that those on medium or low incomes are even more likely to require income support through tax credits or housing benefit.

So there is little comfort to be drawn from the fact that, according the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual survey, inflation of such costs is slowing slightly. There are urgent lessons that must be learnt from nations such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden over how to provide safe, affordable childcare that frees parents to play their part in boosting the national economy.

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