Childcare review could transform life for parents - or not
Parents will be holding their breath to see whether the current system - damned as the most expensive in Europe - can be reformed in a way that makes parenthood less financially ruinous.
There will always be those who argue that people who can't afford to have children shouldn't be starting a family in the first place. However, with the cost of childcare so incredibly high in the UK, you start to wonder whether anyone could ever really afford it.
The costsAccording to the Daycare Trust, the average weekly childcare costs now exceed £100 for a part-time place (25 hours) in many parts of Britain - with the average yearly expenditure for a child under two standing at £5,103.
The most expensive nursery recorded by this year's survey costs £300 for 25 hours care – that's £15,000 for a year's childcare. Once you start factoring a second or third child into the equation the costs are overwhelming.
It's no wonder that so many families decide that one parent will have to give up work, while single parent families are often faced with no alternative to a life on benefits. For those who continue to try to juggle care and work, life is just getting harder. Kate Moore, Head of Savings and Investments at Family Investments says: "Recent research showed that UK family's spend more on childcare than any other country in the OECD apart from Switzerland. These costs are particularly difficult to stomach at a time when a quarter of families recently told us that their living costs had increased in the last year and one in ten specifically said they were now spending more on childcare. Amongst those who reported an increase in their childcare costs, the average sum was £59.67 more per month compared to last year."
CommissionThe Childcare Commission, led by education minister Sarah Teather and work and pensions minister Maria Miller, will investigate ways to cut these costs - as well as investigating improvements to out-of-school care.
Announcing the Commission, David Cameron said: "We want to do all we can to reduce the cost of childcare for parents, and make sure they can find and afford high quality nurseries, after-school clubs and holiday schemes for their children."
Solutions?So what sorts of things will the government consider?
It will look at regulations, and whether any changes would improve provision or reduce cost. One such rule is the adult-to-child ratio for childminders in areas where there is no after-school club, so they can take a small gang of older children.
Another is the possible deregulating of childcare so it is not part of the Ofsted regime (which is the Dutch model). These were both suggested in a Centre Forum report by Elizabeth Truss MP.
However, they have already attracted criticism. Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of Daycare Trust said: "We do not believe that the model implemented in the Netherlands since 2005 has worked, and indeed many of the changes have been reversed. The Dutch reforms led to lower quality childcare, did not increase the number of high quality childminders in the profession, as the increase in numbers was largely due to grandparents registering as childminders; did not have a noticeable impact on maternal employment; and saw bureaucracy increase, due to the introduction of a layer of agencies."
She added: "Proposals to alter the ratio of staff to children open up a debate on the trade off between quality and quantity, and it should be made clear that it is unlikely that a change like this would act as a money saver to parents, as any extra income from higher numbers of children will be offset by the higher salaries paid to the childcarer."
The commission will also look at extending the school day, possibly even up to 8pm, to provide care for children within a suitable setting while parents are at work. This has garnered some support. Indeed many central London Academies embrace a longer school day as an opportunity to build a school community with a sense of balance between work and play.
However, there remain those critics who are concerned that this will simply mean longer working hours for both parents and teachers - without any additional reward.
But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.