Charity calls for free childcare to support working parents

Coram Family and Childcare, a charity which focuses on childcare and early years to make a difference to families’ lives now and in the long term, calls for free childcare so parents can return to work.

Women living in areas of the UK where childcare is more expensive are less likely to return to work than woman who live in areas where childcare is cheaper, according to research by the charity. Coram Family and Childcare want the government to introduce policies to reduce the cost of childcare, through free provision and support to help more women return to work. It also calls for incentives for employers to support parents in balancing work and childcare.

New research from campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed further highlights the problem, who surveyed over 1,800 parents, and 84% said that the cost of childcare creates financial anxiety in their family. This financial burden has caused 17% to leave their jobs, and 62% to reduce their working hours.

Claire Harding, head of Coram Family and Childcare, said: “Too many parents in the UK are frozen out of work by the high cost of childcare, particularly in the first few years when the price is highest and there is no free childcare available. This means families face a drop in income and parents’ vital skills are lost to employers and the economy. Government must act to make sure all parents are better off working after paying for childcare.”

CACHE recognises the need for accessible, quality childcare, as it enables children from all backgrounds to receive early years education and experience interactions with other children their age, which they might not encounter at home. It also gives women opportunities to go back to work, and benefits for women returning to work after having children are clear and well documented, in both economic and social terms.

However, if policies on free childcare are introduced, the government would have do more to support the already overstretched childcare workforce. The sector is struggling to cope with demand, and recruit the number of qualified practitioners it needs. Funding needs to be available to offer suitable rates of pay to these workers and a greater spotlight should be put on progression opportunities.

Inadequate government funding over several years has led to thousands of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders struggling, and many closing. Settings have been unable to offer free childcare places (as per the 30 hours government policy) sustainably, and therefore have cross-subsidised the places with fees from paying parents and charging for extras such as meals and nappies. 92% of childcare providers are undergoing financial difficulties due to the scheme.

The impact that high childcare costs have on families across the country is troubling, and free childcare would benefit both the children and parents. However to avoid creating further problems in the sector, this must be subsidised by funding from the government. Along with this, recruitment and retention in the sector needs to be a government priority, to support the workforce and settings that are currently struggling.