I have seen the 30 free hours childcare everywhere the last few weeks and it upsets me quite a bit; as a parent this sounds amazing. Why shouldn’t you be happy about having to pay a lot less if nothing at all for your childcare? But there is something that the government doesn’t tell everyone, and it is only the people who work with the children that will know.
The 30 free hours childcare is not free, not to the nurseries and childminders that are giving the service anyway. Parents may not need to pay anything but it is the childcare facilities that are coming up short when the government is ‘paying’ for your free hours.
It is a bad time for nurseries at the moment and sadly I have seen quite a few closures over the last couple of months whilst the introduction of the 30 free hours is being rolled out. Nurseries simply can’t afford to make up the shortfall and this is forcing them into closure – some very good nurseries too.
Why are nurseries closing?
I will make this one pretty easy for you to understand – or at least I will try.
The nurseries have their set charges/fees in place for parents, but this doesn’t mean that they will get paid this by the government. The government have different rate bands for different areas on what they are willing to pay for the 30 free hours but if that doesn’t meet the nurseries breakeven rate then these nurseries will simply crash and burn.
Let’s say your nursery charges £4ph per child; but in that area the government is only willing to pay £3ph per child. That gives the nursery a shortfall of £1ph, and if there are 30 children within the nursery that qualify for free hours then that leaves the nursery with a shortfall of £30ph. Doesn’t seem so free now does it?
So how can nurseries counteract this shortfall?
Some nurseries have managed to get around this by putting additional charges on top of fees. Additional fees for food and extra curricular activities seem to be the most popular. But is that sustainable?
Do nurseries and childminders have to offer the free hours?
Of course, you might be unaware but nurseries and childminders do not have to offer the 30 free hours childcare. So if you qualify for the free hours and your current nursery isn’t going to be offering it, then you will have to think about moving nurseries in order to take up the free hours. This means uprooting your children and them having to make new bonds and form new relationships with a whole new staff team and a brand new circle of friends.
Quality childcare comes at a price
If we want quality childcare for our children then it is something that we have to pay for. I feel that the 30 free hours is making childcare seem like a route for low paid workers. Nurseries won’t be able to sustain wages for graduate employees if they are deciding to offer the free hours; this means that quality and knowledgeable staff will seek employment elsewhere. We obviously want the best for our children, but it comes at a price.
This funding rate is fixed until the end of this Parliament. So what are nurseries meant to do with the annual increases of the National Living Wage, increasing pension auto-enrolment costs, rises in business rates, inflation on food, fuel and utilities? The Department for Education seems to be ignoring basic economics.
My final thoughts
I’ve mentioned numerous times before about how important the early years are. This is where children develop skills that they will have for the rest of their lives. So why is the childcare sector being looked at at a way to cut costs? Unfortunately I don’t think a lot of nurseries will cope with the 30 hours free childcare. My personal feeling is that a lot of them will be forced into closure. Either that or they refuse to offer the funded hours full stop.
Click here to check if you’re eligible for the free funded hours.
How do you now feel about the 30 free hours childcare?