The government’s 30-hour free childcare scheme has left nurseries at risk of closure, the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA) has said.
Introduced in September 2017, the scheme sees most working parents in England being offered free childcare for three to four-year-olds during term time.
However, a survey from the PLA has revealed the effect this is having on nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, with four in 10 stating they may have to close in the academic year due to the 30 hours scheme and/or underfunding.
Nearly half (48 percent) of childcare providers surveyed have increased parent fees for non-funded hours, as a result of offering the free ones, while 42 percent have introduced or increased charges for additional goods and services including lunch.
Looking ahead, a third of the 1,662 nurseries or pre-schools who responded to the survey said they plan to increase non-funded hours fees further in the next 12 months, as government funding does not cover the cost of offering the free hours.
Carmela Coady, a Bournemouth-based childminder, said: “I work with my husband so we can provide care for six under-fives a day and have 10 children on our books.
“This summer term, we have had six of those 10 children claiming the 30 hours which has had a fairly big impact on us.
“Our funded rate is almost 80p lower than our hourly fee so this difference soon adds up. We have implemented a daily meal charge of £2.50 for every family now and this just about covers the loss.”
Another childcare provider in Birmingham admitted to being “very worried” about what the second year of the scheme will mean, as there are no plans to increase funding.
Sarah Presswood, who manages the George Perkins Day Nursery said: “Our business rates went up 40 percent, our rent went up 25 percent and the living wage and auto-enrolment continues to rise.
“We haven’t put fees up for our other families (yet) because we feel it is wrong that they should be subsidising the government’s underfunding of the sector.”
Neil Leitch, PLA’s chief executive, said: “We have long warned that without significant increases in funding, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders offering the 30 hours would be at risk of closure – and here we are, one year into a scheme that government insists is going smoothly, with four in 10 providers saying they may not survive the next year.
“There’s no doubt that the 30 hours scheme has been popular with parents, but at a time when providers are struggling to keep their doors open, this simply cannot be the sole measure of its success.
“The fact is that even those providers who are technically managing to make the 30 hours work are often only able to do so by introducing or increasing additional fees and charges.
“Is this what the government meant when they promised parents 30 hours of ‘free childcare’? And while better parents may be able to shoulder these unexpected costs in the short-term, those on the lower end of the income scale – the families that the government claims to be so committed to supporting – are the ones who are likely to suffer as a result.”