Parents are caught in the “chaos” of the Government’s new 30 hour free childcare scheme, which has been branded a “mismanaged” and underfunded policy.
Working parents of children aged three and four have been given 30 hours’ free childcare from September 1 but are finding the scheme has fallen far short of what was promised.
Temi Kamson is having to split her 30 free hours between two nurseries for her three-year-old son Daniel because his existing nursery cannot afford to offer the full scheme.
The Government needs to step up, admit it got this wrong, and fix the mess that it has made
Neil Leitch, Pre-school Learning Alliance
Ms Kamson, 33, said the nursery could only offer the free hours if parents committed to 35 hours a week of childcare all year round. The five extra hours would have to be paid for.
Ms Kamson, a teacher from Croydon, said she did not want to have to commit to childcare all year round when she was free to look after Daniel outside of term time.
“The 30 hours of free childcare was such a welcome concept but the whole thing’s been a nightmare,” she said.
“One of the nurseries only offers the free hours in the afternoons and I’m not sure how I’m going to explain to Daniel why he will be spending two mornings in one nursery and three afternoons in another with different staff and friends.”
Ms Kamson said she is also concerned that Daniel could lose his place in both nurseries if spaces become limited.
“If funding is an issue the nurseries are likely to prioritise parents guaranteed to be using the services full time, which I’m not,” she said.
Even those not eligible for the free hours are being affected thanks to the squeeze on funding from the new scheme.
Sarah Dale, a nurse from East Sussex, who works shifts, was told to find a new after-school club for her 10-year-old son Lewis following the introduction of the new scheme because her nursery could not afford to offer him a space if it wasn’t certain to be used.
Ms Dale, 31, works hospital shifts and because she does not have a set work pattern cannot guarantee when she needs childcare.
As squeezed nurseries struggle to make up the shortage in the Government funding, Ms Dale said parents who cannot commit to full-time places may be the first to be dumped.
Parents of three and four-year-olds are already entitled to 15 hours’ free childcare but the new scheme doubles this.
@GMB I've got my 30 hrs of free childcare, but I will have to pay £5 for lunch and the nursery only Excepts multiples of 10 hours.— musicboxx (@Jac003) August 31, 2017
Lots of coverage of "free" 30 hours of childcare not working. I have 2 kids in nursery and the whole thing has been chaos from the start.— Patrick Smith (@psmith) August 31, 2017
Han-San Lee, a father from Croydon, said there has been so much confusion around the scheme. He said during the summer, while trying to find a nursery for his three-year-old son Max, the nurseries he spoke to still had no idea if they could afford to roll-out the 30-hours.
“It seems as if the hours are subsidised rather than funded and the nurseries have to make up the cost somewhere or not offer it at all,” he said.
Almost half of childcare providers interviewed by the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the largest early years members group in the UK, said they plan to increase charges for parents as a result of the new scheme.
Half of providers said they plan to increase how much they charge for goods and services, such as food and trips, while 42pc of childcare providers say they don’t think they will be able to offer as many places as needed.
Little Pumpkins nursery in Lee, south London, wrote to parents this week to tell them it could not offer the extra free hours without putting the business at risk.
Some nurseries have already chosen to close as they say the new scheme is unaffordable, because the rate the Government offers is 39p an hour below the actual cost of childcare.
The latest research from the Pre-school Learning Alliance revealed that 38pc of nurseries and pre-schools are not confident their services will be sustainable in 12 months.
The Government has been slammed for ignoring the problems of the new scheme.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the launch of the 30 hours offer should have been a “day of celebration” instead of a “policy in chaos”.
He said: “The Government’s total refusal to tackle, or even acknowledge, the fundamental problem of early years underfunding has left providers across the country struggling to find ways of delivering the offer that won’t force them out of business.”
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He said it was unfair that parents who expected “free childcare” were now facing additional fees, unexpected restrictions and limited places that he blamed on the “complete mismanagement” of the policy.
Mr Leitch said it was time for the Government to “step up, admit it got this wrong, and fix the mess that it has made. Otherwise it will be parents and providers who pay the price”.
The Department for Education said it found providers in eight of the councils piloting the 30 hours scheme were “willing and able” to offer it and there was “no evidence of funding being a substantial barrier to its delivery”.
It also said the scheme had improved the finances of 84pc of parents involved in the pilot.
Education Secretary Justine Greening insisted the department had delivered on its promise.
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