For the first time since the coalition government came to power, the childcare plans have David Cameron and Nick Clegg, in a first-time public debate over reform policies. Prior to the Queen Speech on May 8th 2013, it was thought that both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister signed off the childcare plans.
This was the case previous and it was thought to be set in stone to go ahead, however following strong public concern from petitions from parents and concerned childcare workers, Nick Clegg has withdrew support for the reform, seeking further consultations with parents, childminders and other childcare workers.
May 8th saw the first behind the scenes debate between the coalition, go public when Nick Clegg withdrew support for the childcare reform to go ahead, which was scheduled to roll out throughout England in September.
It’s now unknown whether the plans will go ahead, as Nick Clegg looks to act on evidence, and not an estimate on how much the government could save, but instead act in the best interests of child carers, teachers, nursery nurses, and parents themselves.
For those who aren’t familiar with the topical debate, the gist of it is that to reduce public spending, the government was set to introduce a bill that would see childminder staff-children ratio increase.
The current ratio for children under the age of three years old is 4:1; meaning a childminder cannot care for anymore than four children under the age of three years old, at any given time.
This limits childcare workers to the number of kids they can look after, therefore limiting their salary potential. This ratio was set to be raised to 6:1, allowing childminders to care for six children instead of four.
For babies, under one year old, childminders could be looking after two babies, instead of the current limit to only one baby per childminder, and three pre-school children. Should the ratio changes be approved, it would mean childminders would have an extra three children to look after, but mostly two given the 6:1 ratio.
A maximum would be six children, but if there are two babies, they would be cared for in addition to another four pre-school children. The area that caused the most alarm to parents, and childminders was the detrimental standard of care, insisting that children get a higher degree of personal attention from the current ratio, and by having more pre-schoolers would lead to a lower standard of care, and a more stressful environment for kids.
The main concern is bringing costs down for parents, while maintaining a high standard of care for every child. That’s the focus Nick Clegg is looking at and comments that any reform to childcare, needs to be evidence based, thoroughly thought through, and implementation must be correct first time around.
The petition to challenge the childcare reforms has received over 11’000 signatures, which is enough signatures on the petition, ensuring that Government listen to the concerns expressed and act in the best interest of the public. The main concerns expressed are
a) The safety of children
In terms of child safety, the increase in staff to child ratios would mean that childminders would see more strain on their work, which could result in not supervising each child to a strict level, to minimize the risk of any accidents. With an increase in the number of children under a childminders care, it would reduce the time they could spend supervising the children, ensuring they’re playing safely, so they can monitor them closely, preventing any accidents occurring.
b) The level of support children receive
Some children require additional support from childminders and nursery staff, ensuring they get the best in education. Increasing numbers of children per group would result in a less supportive service to children, due to time constraints. The one-to-one attention kids receive currently would be diminished, resulting in the standard of care being reduced.
It’s estimated the UK budget for childcare has a £5bn cost to the public fund, supporting parents with childcare costs.
The £5bn cost on the public fund is among the highest in Europe. Regarding the cost to parents, according to the OECD, (Economic Cooperation and Development), report that families in England have the highest cost of around 27% of their annual incomes being spent on childcare costs.
Other countries including France, Germany, and Italy, have estimates of around 11% of household incomes spend on childcare provisions. The UK having 27% of a family income going towards child care services does need to be addressed to bring the cost down somehow, but the debate is about how to bring costs down and keep the standards up, which is what’s believed to be behind the u-turn of Nick Clegg withdrawing from supporting the current plans.
For the time being, the plans on childcare reform are pending further review, but they may still go through.
What’s to happen now after the u-turn of Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg?
Who knows but what we do know, and can take some comfort in is that before any legislative bills are passed, it’s being considered by the childcare professionals and not exclusively by politicians. Anything passed is going to be beneficial to kids, their parents and carers, as well as the public purse.