Free childcare? Tories take parents for fools

Pregnant then screwed, march of the mummies protest. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Fight for free, fully funded childcare

A Parent

The first stage of the flagship government scheme to roll out ‘free childcare’ came in on 1 April. But without the funding and investment needed to actually make it so, it’s like a cruel April Fool’s Day joke.

The headline is up to 30 hours free childcare for all two-year-olds. But the finer details are: 30 hours for children of working parents, and the already existing 15 hours for those on low incomes.

This was a very welcome announcement for parents straining under rising costs. As my toddler is currently in nursery 30 hours a week, with monthly fees about £850, genuinely free childcare would have transformed our situation.

Our hopes were quickly dashed when I realised that, as a part-time worker, I didn’t earn enough to count as a working parent so our household was ineligible.

We eventually managed to secure the 15 hours which, with rising rent, food and other costs, is still a very welcome break.

Or at least it was until I opened the invoice this month. The government doesn’t cover the full cost of providing childcare – so the nursery charges a ‘consumables fee’ to cover costs not included, like food. That’s £12 a day! Funding is also for term time only and, since it’s the Easter holidays, that means two weeks of full costs. Those factors combined, and what was promoted as ‘30 free hours’ has resulted in about £100 off the fees this month.

Some parents can claim up to 85% of childcare costs through Universal Credit – but this is paid in arrears with nursery fees paid up front. This puts a huge strain on finances. I’m already dreading the August invoice. The summer holiday means no funding and our bill will be several hundred pounds higher than our Universal Credit payment in July. Finding the difference will be a huge strain. The situation is a confusing, piecemeal mess that’s a world away from the “free childcare” being promoted. The system has been confusing and as many as two thirds of parents with two-year-olds don’t even know about the scheme! Plus many families still struggle to access childcare at all, with thousands of providers closing in recent years.