The cost and quality of childcare is an issue which touches millions of parents and families across the country. All parents want the best care for their children, and they also want it to come at a reasonable price. Yet somehow, as important an issue as it is, we have managed to stick with a system that isn’t working for anyone.
The costs to families are huge. They face the second highest childcare costs in the OECD - at 26.6 per cent of family income it is more than double the OECD average of 11.8 per cent. When it takes an average of four months full time work for a mother to cover the cost of her child’s care, it is hardly surprising that many are being kept at home because they can’t afford to go out and work. Department for Education (DfE) data shows that half of all stay at home mothers want to get back to work, but the sky high costs of childcare provision are holding them back. Worryingly, the problem is getting even worse. Figures from the Daycare Trust show childcare costs are increasing by six per cent a year, well above the rise in wages.
High costs aren’t for lack of Government funding. In spite of the large costs to parents, the Government is still spending twice the OECD average on child care. These also aren’t a reflection of a much higher quality of care in the UK. While costs are high, wages for carers are low, which is dragging down quality. On average a childcare worker in England is paid just £13,300, and a supervisor £16,850, compared to £20,000 and £30,000 respectively in both Germany and Denmark.
It is of course no coincidence that the crippling cost comes alongside the other thing which makes our childcare system an exception in the world: the hugely restrictive ratios of staff to children we impose. While in England nurseries must have one member of staff for every four two year olds in the Netherlands and Ireland the ratio is one to six; in France is one to eight; and in Denmark, Germany and Sweden there is no national limit at all.