Parents across the United Kingdom could face charges for David Cameron’s “free” childcare scheme, nurseries have warned.
Leading professionals have said that the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledge of 30 hours of childcare per week for free — for children ages three to four — has led to a situation in which early years’ organisations are losing money, with many having to shut down.
As reported by the Independent, nursery schools already have a problem dating as far back as the 1990s with a “chronic funding gap.” On top of this, they have been hit by government austerity measures, increased employer pension contributions, and having to pay for better qualified staff.
This means that following the proposal to increase “free” childcare from 15 to 30 hours per week, many nurseries simply won’t have the resources to guarantee children a spot unless parents contribute to the costs.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance, an early years education charity, have said that nurseries may refuse to offer places due to the fact that it would cost them “tens of thousands of pounds.”
Some nurseries are reportedly planning to charge fees to parents and children in funded childcare to make up for the shortfall. Others are set to ask the Department for Education for permission to offer parents short-term places for their children, setting the maximum at just 38 weeks, as a way of balancing the books.
As described by Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, some nurseries may simply opt to leave the government scheme altogether:
“As the Department for Education itself has acknowledged, if childcare providers find that they’ll be financially worse off by delivering the 30 hours, many will simply opt out of the scheme.”
According to the Mirror, nursery professionals have said the institutions were already drastically underfunded at 15 free hours a week.
The Department for Education has responded, saying:
“The government subsidy was not intended to fund the cost of consumables (such as drinks, meals and nappies) or additional services (such as trips).
“Paying for additional services must not be a condition of taking up a free publicly-funded place.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner has given her views on the situation:
“The Government’s underfunding of childcare shows that they do not understand the challenges faced by working families in this country.
“Their manifesto commitment to deliver 30 hours of free childcare a week is evporating because, as always with the Tories, they simply fail to fund vital public services.”
However, the Department for Education claims to have refuted these accusations by saying that they will be “spending a record £6 billion on childcare by the end of this Parliament” and that they “had a huge demand from local areas” and have received “widespread support” for their childcare scheme.
Despite this, the Daily Mail reports, the number of nurseries going bankrupt this year has almost doubled according to leading accountancy group Moore Stephens. It cited the reason as being the “soaring costs” of childcare.
The policy is set to be trialed in York from next month and will be expanded to the rest of England in 2017.