Government’s ‘childcare chaos’ leaving families in England facing steep costs

Government’s ‘childcare chaos’ leaving families in England facing steep costs

Childcare places in England have fallen by nearly 40,000 since the Tories came to power in 2010, Labour research has found.

This includes a drop of 1,000 places between March and December last year, at a time when demand was anticipated to rise before new entitlements became available.

In his 2023 budget, Jeremy Hunt announced the extension of free nursery places designed to help working parents of two-year-olds. The chancellor claimed this would lead to 60,000 more parents entering the workforce.

Starting this week, those parents should be able to access 15 hours of free childcare a week, with a further extension due in September expanding the provision to children over six months of age. But Labour said a lack of clarity over the rules was leading to confusion and not enough had been done to ensure nurseries can absorb the increase in demand.

Releasing what it called its “dossier of childcare chaos”, Labour said: “Fourteen years of Conservative failure in early years has left families facing even greater costs for childcare, with England’s childcare system now one of the most expensive in the world, forcing parents to scale back on working hours or even give up work altogether against their wishes.”

The party pointed to research by the charity Coram, which found that a part-time nursery place for a child under two now costs an average of £158 a week in Britain, up 7% on 2023.

Labour said: “The Conservatives’ childcare pledge without a plan announced at the 2023 budget is threatening to crash the childcare system just like the Conservatives crashed the economy.”

LIz, a working mother in Sussex who did not give her full name, described the current system as “financially crippling, emotionally draining and unreliable for working parents … The staff are doing their best, but the effort needed to fix a broken system is not enough for children and parents.”

Eleanor in Sheffield, who has three children in nursery, said she had used six different childcare providers in the last seven years because of the struggle to find places.

“My family has a low income and receives tax credits [soon to be universal credit] towards our childcare costs. If more childcare places were available in our local area, I would be able to work a less flexible job, which would mean we earned more, which would then mean we would no longer require universal credit,” she said.

“The cost of childcare, the lack of places and providers, and the government’s failure to properly fund and support the childcare system impacts every aspect of our family life and keeps us in a financially precarious situation.”

Lydia Wright, who runs the Little Pearls Nursery in Exeter, said: “As a reputable nursery, we are already having significant capacity issues; most recently not being able to accommodate younger siblings of current children in the nursery due to the increase in inquiries and bookings.

“With no space to expand, we are unfortunately now beginning to turn families away, let alone increase hours for families already with us.”

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said: “On the day that the Conservative government is delivering the biggest ever expansion in childcare provision, Labour still have nothing to offer. This is simply a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that they would pull out the rug from tens of thousands of hardworking families, adding an average £6,900 to the costs of childcare.”