The headlines continue to bemoan comparatively high costs of childcare in the UK and childcare was still a hot topic at all the party conferences. Yet despite all this attention and the fact that the UK Government does spend a relatively high proportion of public funds on early years education and care, the economics of childcare are often a misunderstood area.
This is an indisputably important issue. Not only does high quality childcare and early learning help to ensure all children receive the best start in life (in particular to improve the life chances of our most disadvantaged children) it is also key to lifting families out of poverty and helping more women into work. As recent research from the Women's Business Council argues, inadequate provision of childcare can block women's access to the work place. With the average cost of a nursery place rising by 23% in the last four years, how can we turn this around?
The answer is certainly not by reducing the remuneration of childcare professionals. The most recent salary and earnings research that PACEY conducted shows that over half (57%) of childminders earn less than £15,000 a year. Meanwhile nursery workers salaries start at £10,000, with nannies tending to earn more with salaries from £26,000. Whichever way you look at it though many childcare professionals earn significantly less than those working in equivalent caring roles in education, health and social sectors.
Often politicians look abroad for solutions, examining how other countries tackle the childcare economic dilemma. Yet this can be misleading. As two studies published earlier this year acknowledge it is difficult to make true comparisons between the countries because they are subsidized in different manners, some funding goes directly to parents, others via employers, providers or various forms of government.
To truly tackle to the number of families struggling with the cost of childcare, we need to reflect on why childcare is key. It drives the economy, and as our recent report into school readiness has shown, helps children to be not only school but life ready too. Childcare - alongside strong parenting - sets the foundations for intellectual growth and affording children the best start they deserve in life.
A wide range of literature now also supports the theory that early interventions and quality childcare can have a huge impact on children's prospects in school, and beyond. As a professional association we are pleased to see the existing free allowance of childcare extended to a new cohort of the most deserving 2-year-olds (so long as it is delivered in high quality settings) and new manifestos that pledge to extend the numbers of hours available to parents. This is all to be welcomed as part of recognising that childcare is critical to families and wider society but more needs to be done to increase the recognition and value we place on the people working in childcare, providing safe and high quality play and learning experiences for our youngest children.
PACEY will be working between now and the next election to support all parties to ensure that alongside plans to tackle the cost of childcare for families they are also focused on developing a clear plan for how the childcare profession will receive the training and continuous development it needs to provide outstanding childcare for the children in their settings.