Wycombe Labour concerned about the impact of the Government’s new childcare measures on local families and nurseries

Wycombe Labour concerned about the impact of the Government’s new childcare measures on local families and nurseries

Wycombe Labour is concerned that the Government’s proposals to increase free childcare for one- and two-year-olds, while broadly welcome, could actually result in local nurseries closing due to a lack of funding. There are also serious concerns around the Government’s decision to change the minimum staff to child ratios from one adult per four two-year-old children to one adult per five two-year-old children.

The UK is the third most expensive country for childcare in the world (according to data from the OECD). This acts as barrier to women accessing work, which is turn contributes to the UK’s growing gender pay gap. However, as highlighted by Sam Freedman, who co-authored the report Delivering A Childcare Guarantee for the Institute for Public Policy Research, the current funding for state-funded nursery places is too low, meaning nurseries have to make up the shortfall by charging more for one- and two-year-olds. If these places are also state-subsidised, the nurseries will have no way of making up the shortfall and could end up going bust.

Research from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimates that fully funding the existing schemes for three- to four-year-olds and expanding the scheme to one- and two-year-olds would cost £8.9bn. The Government has set aside just £4bn – less than half what’s needed.

The decision to allow carers to look after more children is also a serious cause for concern. Councillor Karen Bates is the chair of governors for a federation of two state-maintained nursery schools in Bucks: Bowerdean in Wycombe and Henry Allen in Amersham. She says: “How can it be safe for one person to look after five under threes?”

She believes that the scheme will result in lower-qualified staff being brought in to look after children. “The biggest impact on the children and their outcomes is the number and quality of the staff,” she says. “One of the reasons that the nursery schools do well is because they have highly qualified staff (ie teachers). That is not to say that the Level 3 or even Level 2 staff are not good at their jobs, because many are. But there is a big variation.”

Councillor Andrea Baughan, an NHS worker, agrees. She says: “In the current economic crisis, families are really worried about money and childcare. I have definitely noticed an increase in concerns about the cost-of-living crisis, managing whilst on parental leave when parents should be taking the opportunity to enjoy time with their new babies and children.”

She adds: “Although the idea of free childcare for parents is appealing, we have to balance this with ensuring that childcare facilities are equally well funded and the increase in demand doesn’t lead to measures such as increasing the ratio of carers to children or a decrease in the quality of care offered and facilities in order to allow our children to thrive.

Emma Reynolds, the Labour candidate for Wycombe, says: “Parents are being held back and penalised by hugely expensive childcare. As a mum of two young boys, I am painfully aware of the high cost of childcare. The Chancellor committed to more free hours of childcare. I support offering more free childcare but the government urgently needs a plan to put the extra provision in place. Local nurseries are already struggling to provide the current allocation of free care and also are suffering from staff shortages – as was reported in the Bucks Free Press last month.

She added: “I am also concerned about the Tory government plan to increase the number of children that childcare workers are allowed to look after. We want safe and good quality childcare for our children.”

While Wycombe Labour strongly supports the idea of offering more state-funded nursery places, it has to be properly funded and implemented. Our concern is that this is not the case – and already struggling local nurseries will be put under unbearable pressure, with local children losing out as a result. Wycombe has had enough of soundbite policies – which sound good but are unworkable. It’s time for serious, grown-up politics. It’s time for a Labour government.

Photo by Jason Sung on Unsplash

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