Anna’s Blog – Changing Childcare
The rising cost and poor availability of childcare alongside the wider cost of living crisis is an ongoing concern for many parents, and for people who would like to have children in the near future. It’s becoming such a problem that the declining birth rates we’re seeing across many countries can be partially attributed to childcare costs and the general cost of living. Employers have joined the call for more provision to increase the workforce at a time of record unfilled vacancies. Staff in social care are particularly impacted, having to juggle 7-day shift work with inflexible provision as well as the lack of affordable options.
Many people are finding the route to accessing state funding for childcare confusing, and unnecessarily complicated, and for people with children or expecting, it adds another challenge onto their already full plate. It’s really important for people to know their rights when it comes to accessing support for childcare, and how to go about starting the process.
The latest Government budget announcement revealed changes to how people access childcare, and it will have an impact on working parents. Free childcare is being extended, meaning more families will have access to the 30 hours free childcare which is reimbursed by the Government. Currently, only parents who work more than 16 hours a week and earn less than £100k with children aged between three and four, can access the scheme. From April 2024 however, all working parents of children over nine months are also entitled to free 30 hours of childcare. To see how this will impact you, you can use the childcare choices calculator here. However, many of these changes come into place from April 2024 and they are staggered, so they won’t help immediately. From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds can access 15 hours of free childcare. From September 2024, 15 hours of free childcare will be extended to all children aged nine months or above. From September 2025, working parents with children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week.
Another more controversial change is how many children a childcare provider can look after. The ‘staff-to-child-ratio’ currently sits at four children per member of staff. From September 2023, this will be raised to five children. This means that there may be more opportunities for childcare provisions from this date, helping with the current fierce competition for slots. Many childcare experts and childcare providers viewing this is as a dilution in quality standards. Good quality childcare should be a right, not a privilege for those who can pay for provision with lower ratios.
Universal Credit, which supports working parents, single parents, those who work part-time, and those with a disabled child, is also changing in regards to childcare. Parents on Universal Credit can currently claim up to 85% of their childcare costs back. By summer 2023, they will be able to access the funds upfront instead to make it easier for parents to find a job or increase their working hours at their current job. The maximum amount of support will also be increased by almost 50%, up from £646 to £951 for people with one child, and from £1108 to £1630 for people with two children. This needs to be looked at separately through the Universal Credit website.
Childcare costs aren’t the only element making affording being a working parent harder. In my previous blog I discussed how some people hitting the usual retirement age are struggling to fund their retirement and subsequently are staying in work much longer than usual. This is also having an impact as many people with young children have previously turned to their retired parents to supplement their childcare, an option that is becoming less viable.
We cautiously welcome the new childcare provisions implemented by the Government, along with the essential additional funding for childcare. The funding gap has negatively impacted parents for too long, and it is our hope that the Spring Budget changes become the first step of many to increase and create comprehensive funding for parents.
Accessing childcare support can be complicated, and parents or people who would like to become parents should feel empowered to do so without fear of not being able to pay their bills or take time off to bond with their child. It is our hope that we see further support announced for hardworking people who shouldn’t have to choose between their career and having children, but for the time being make sure you know your rights and draw on Governmental support wherever possible.