We are a long way from Scottish and UK governments being able to actually deliver on their promises of a 30 hour childcare service free at the point of use so it’s great to see Joseph Rowntree Foundation publishing a plan to enable actual delivery.
The cost of childcare is a substantial barrier to work for many parents and the lack of availability and complexity of both finding childcare and funding support make it even more difficult. For many families childcare is their single biggest monthly bill.
The new report calls for a simplified childcare system which focuses on tackling poverty. Currently childcare subsidies are extremely complex: supply side via “free hours” alongside the childcare element of tax credits, employer supported childcare vouchers and the tax free childcare scheme. Finding and accessing care is equally complex. There is no one place to go to even find out what’s available far less to apply for a place. Many parents struggle to access the current “free hours” entitlement never mind childcare that matches their working hours even if they can afford to pay.
The Rowntree report calls for a move to a “supply side” funding. Evidence suggests that this is the most effective way to fund a childcare service and means we can ensure quality, affordability and flexibility for all children regardless of their parents’ ability to pay. In terms of Scotland this could also mean more childcare funding could be devolved to the Scottish Government to invest in delivering on their promise.
If childcare is to be effective in reducing poverty and the impact of poverty on children then the focus has to be about more than reducing just the cost. The evidence is clear: childcare delivered by qualified staff working in a degree led setting is the most effective way to improve children’s outcomes.
Quality childcare requires:
• well qualified and experienced staff able to identify and respond to children’s needs
• An active approach to home learning
• A good social mix of children
• Strong links with local family and child support services (which again need to be well funded and high quality)
High quality childcare cannot be delivered without tackling low pay in the sector.
Some key recommendations from the report
Funding a decisive shift towards high quality childcare by:
• Moving to a qualified, graduate-led workforce and equalising wages across the private, voluntary and maintained settings in line with a national pay scale to support the professionalisation of the workforce
• Setting up a properly funded entitlement to full day childcare from age one to pre-school 48 weeks a year.
• Removing the parental contribution to childcare fees altogether for families with an income below the relative poverty threshold.
UNISON has long campaigned for a universal childcare service delivered in the public sector by a well qualified and appropriately paid workforce. This report is a very useful contribution to this campaign. Our Childcare Charter is available here.