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Factbox-What are the options for reforming British childcare support?

Mother priced out of work by childcare costs in Britain

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government is under pressure to reform the help it provides with childcare costs that are among the most expensive in the world, in order to help get more parents back into work.

There is a range of existing support available. Below are some additional options that have been suggested, and the possible costs involved.

INCREASE FUNDING TO CHILDCARE PROVIDERS FOR FREE HOURS

Private childcare providers are struggling to make ends meet, in part due to the shortfall in funding available from the government to cover the cost of providing 15 free hours a week to all 3- and 4-year-olds in England, and some 2-year-olds.

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Business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is among those who have called on the government to increase funding for the existing system so it reflects the true cost of providing the service.

Boosting the funding to match the level provided to nurseries run by local authorities would require an additional 2.4 billion pounds ($2.9 billion) a year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank estimates.

LOWERING THE AGE FOR FREE HOURS

Lowering the age at which government-funded hours of free childcare are provided, to close the gap between the end of parental leave after a baby is born and the age of 3, when most help kicks in.

Making the 15 free hours currently offered to some 2-year-olds universal would cost 0.9 billion pounds a year, the IPPR estimates, while extending this to under 2s would also cost 0.9 billion pounds for 15 hours a week.

It estimates that making the offer of 30 hours a week universally available to 3- and 4-year-olds at the improved rate of funding for nurseries would cost 1.1 billion pounds a year.

EXTENDING AVAILABILITY OF FREE HOURS

The free hours are currently only available 38 weeks a year, in line with school terms, even though most private childcare providers are open for 51 weeks a year.

The IPPR says expanding the availability of free hours for 3- and 4-year-olds to 48 weeks would cost around 1.3 billion pounds a year.

EXTENDING SCHOOL WRAPAROUND CARE

The school day for children aged 4 and over usually runs for 6.5 hours a day, from roughly 8.45 a.m to 3.15 p.m., with some schools offering activities before and after those hours during term time. Funding for such wraparound care could be expanded.

The IPPR estimates a full scheme to cover the hours from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., delivered across primary schools in England, would cost around 7.6 billion pounds a year, although as many already have such provision it says the marginal cost would be lower.

PROVIDE UPFRONT SUPPORT TO THOSE ON LOWEST INCOMES

Those on Universal Credit social security payments are entitled to support with childcare costs which is paid in arrears.

The CBI is among those who have called on the government to change the system so the money is paid upfront, to remove the problem of prohibitive childcare costs stopping parents taking on more hours, or working at all.

REDUCE CHILDCARE RATIOS

Under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's predecessor Liz Truss, the government held a consultation on reducing the child-staff ratio for 2-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5, a change it said could reduce the cost of childcare by 40 pounds a week for a family paying 265 pounds.

This idea was unpopular with parents and providers who said it would lower the quality of early years care and education. The government has not yet published a response to the consultation, and media have reported Sunak has scrapped the plans.

($1 = 0.8344 pounds)

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Catherine Evans)