Home Estate Planning The government must go further to make childcare affordable

The government must go further to make childcare affordable

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The UK’s extortionate childcare costs are preventing parents from fulfilling their career ambitions. The government must build on its reforms of the sector to make sure every child gets the best possible start in life, says Caroline Dinenage

The Conservative Party is – and always have been – the party of families and we will continue to do our utmost to protect a cornerstone belief that every parent has the right to affordable childcare. This empowers parents with the opportunity to succeed in raising a family, helps drive our economy as they return to the workforce, and strengthens a child’s development.  

When I entered the House of Commons in 2010, as a working mum, I had to balance looking after my youngest, Freddie, who was two and Edward, who was seven. With my then-husband working away much of the time, I had no option but to arrange childcare for my boys. With costs so high, I found I was spending almost all of my take-home pay on childcare. Since then, I have worked tirelessly to ensure other parents don’t face the same fate. 

This is the reality that many working families face up and down the country. The problem is that the UK is now one of the most expensive countries in the world for childcare, with costs rising by an average of 21% across the country in the past five years. This has left the average cost of full-time childcare, fifty hours per week, at nearly £15,000 a year in the UK. As much as 39% of an average working mother’s take home pay now goes solely on childcare costs, twice as much as what the average individual may spend on tax, resulting in nearly two-thirds of parents saying that they, or their partner, have been forced to reduce their working hours.

These factors are starting to cause wider societal issues. Six in ten women who had an abortion last year said that the cost of childcare put them off pregnancy, and 87% of parents stated that the high cost of childcare is preventing them from having more children. Besides the cost, this simply isn’t fair. Research suggests that for women returning to the workplace, hourly wages are £2 lower for every year they are out of the workplace. Shockingly, less than a quarter of women return to full time work after having children. If we want to achieve equality, affordable child care provides a significant step towards that goal.

As One Nation Conservatives, we don’t believe that parents should be forced to choose between either their career or their children. It is vital that as a Party we do more to build on the measures set out by the Chancellor during the Autumn Statement and help give children the best start in life and parents the chance to realise greater opportunity. 

I was incredibly proud to kickstart the Conservative offer for 30 hours of free childcare to 3 and 4 year olds, as the Minister for Early Years and Childcare in 2016. The measures introduced last year saw us go further, and implement reforms to help parents with childcare costs, beginning in April 2024. This phased expansion is designed to help parents with younger children get back to work and drive economic growth. Whilst the £4bn expansion of free childcare for all preschool children is a welcome start, more must be done to help lower childcare costs and tackle the difficulty of navigating the early years childcare system.

When fully rolled out, the government’s reforms will provide a high quality, more affordable option for children from the end of maternity or paternity leave to starting school. Whilst the government has already provided some nurseries with clarity on how much it will pay for some aspects of the scheme, there are still questions that remain unanswered. Likewise, the scheme is also overly complicated, with over eight different schemes to help families with the cost of care. Families are often eligible for multiple schemes, making it difficult for parents to work out what support they are entitled to receive. 

Our ask is simple: we believe that the government should commit to multi-year funding that will ensure that the UK continues to make progress on the affordability of childcare. This measure will reassure providers in the face of increasing costs and give parents the certainty they need to make choices about their families’ future. It gives parents the flexibility to enter the workforce, whilst also simplifying this confusing and bureaucratic funding system.

We cannot underestimate the importance of affordable childcare in our society. For parents, it means they are not prohibited from grasping the opportunity of a fulfilling career. For our children, it provides a safe and supportive learning environment in which they can thrive. And for our economy, affordable childcare will help stoke growth and strengthen our workforce.

Caroline Dinenage is MP or Gosport

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