London’s childcare system ‘creaking’ and in need of 25,000 more places


childcareNew research by the Daycare Trust, a charity that campaigns for affordable childcare, shows that more than 25,000 extra nursery places are needed in London to meet the Deputy PM’s pledge to provide free childcare to some of the poorest households.

The pledge came from Nick Clegg who said earlier last month that it was absurd that working parents were barely able to cover childcare costs with their wages. He promised to extend the 15 hours of free childcare per week already in place for three to four year-olds to the poorest parents of two year-olds.

However, the Daycare Trust’s new report finds that a minimum of 24,100 new places are needed in London to meet the pledge. This will rise further to 31,700 places by September 2014.

Currently, parents with children aged three or four are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare a week. The Commission on Living Standards also recently recommended that these 15 hours of free childcare be increased to 25 hours – but parents would be charged £10 for the extra 10 hours.

Childcare in London

London may have an economy that is bigger than that of Sweden, Belgium or Switzerland (and more billionaires live in London than any other city in the world!) but the city faces special challenges when it comes to providing for its less well-off citizens.

For example, the cost of providing subsidised childcare is higher in London than elsewhere because of factors like high levels of poverty, population increases from immigration, high birth-rates and steep property prices.

Which parent living in London today hasn’t had to go through the ‘childcare nightmare’?

Leo, a London-based father in his mid-thirties said: “My own experience of sourcing childcare is that it is certainly a ‘seller’s market’. The competition for places is high and there’s no guarantee that your child will get a space. More places can only be a good thing. The cost of daily childcare can easily go a long way to undoing the benefit of having both parents working and this can be financially pretty painful even for families who are better off.”

Tammy, a mother of two from Epsom said: “You get called a good-for-nothing stay-at-home sponger if you don’t work and look after kids, and you get criticised for not bringing up your children properly. You can’t win!”

Stay at home?

housewifeThe number of stay-at-home mums is falling, with less than 10% of women staying at home to look after their children in the UK today, compared to 17% two decades ago. This means that toddlers are consigned to childcare; a luxury that many families cannot afford to pay for.

That is why many families all over the UK rely on free childcare.

This change in attitude where mothers started returning to work rather than staying at home to look after their children came in the 1980’s with rising career expectations and a dramatic rise in house prices, which meant that families had to work extra hard to get onto the property ladder.

A CARE report in 2011 found that married couples where the mother stays home face a 42% higher tax burden. So many parents simply cannot afford for one of them not to work to look after their children…

It is one of the greatest ironies of our age; to bring up our children properly and give them a fighting chance in the competitive age that they will grow up in, we must entrust them to government-sponsored childcare.

But what happens when there simply aren’t enough places?

The end result is that given a shortage of nursery places, and an ever rising London population, there might very well be long queues to get onto free subsidised childcare schemes, like there are queues to get a council house. Parents already have to ask themselves if they can afford children without a steep decline in their living standards. Will free childcare now become a luxury rather than a benefit?

Do you feel the pinch too? Write to us at [email protected]