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Childcare for all: a necessity not a luxury

7 June 2013

10:36 AM

7 June 2013

10:36 AM

How many small children do you think you could look after? Three? Four? Maybe not even one without someone else on hand? It’s a question Liz Truss says she is asked regularly, although as she points out, no one asks her Department of Health colleagues whether they could perform keyhole surgery.

That’s the problem with the current debate around childcare: it’s too emotional. Tired parents, nerves frayed from watching their brood run riot throughout the house ask themselves ‘how could anyone look after a group of small children all day?’ Feeling overtakes fact, which makes reasoned discussion impossible.

Take this comment by Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Founder and CEO:

‘There’s a lot of concern among Mumsnet users about the Government’s plans to relax childcare ratios. Four babies under the age of one seems like a lot [my emphasis] for even the most experienced childcare worker to manage.’


Trawling the forums on Mumsnet it’s not long before you hear tales of woe from this group: wives whose salary covers the childcare costs with just a few pounds left over at the end of the month. They do it to keep their careers ticking over, whilst the husband’s salary keeps the household running. Because the salary only just covers the childcare costs, they feel poor.

Yet little thought is spared for those below them: single parents who have no husband’s salary to fall back on, or low waged earners. Amongst the latter group, uptake of formal childcare is low compared with other European nations, at just 27 per cent. These parents are effectively being priced out of the job market.
But it’s the former group, not the latter, that Nick Clegg knows he must hold on to in the polls. And that’s why he’s keen to see an end to the discussion of relaxing ratios. What is being spun as ‘the caring Lib Dems – always on your side’ is no more than selfish self-interest; political game playing of the worst order. The people who will lose out are not his friends and voters in Islington and other leafy London districts, but parents up and down the country who are being denied a career at all.

Thanks to regulation such as the much discussed child/carer ratios, the cost of childcare in the UK rose steadily over the last decade. We now pay an average of £11,000 a year per child in nursery fees. This makes childcare the most expensive bill in many households after the mortgage, and for others, simply unaffordable. Only 27 per cent of low waged families use any sort of formal childcare.

Yet there is no hard evidence that relaxing those ratios would have a negative effect on the quality of childcare offered. Whereas in England nursery staff may look after no more than four two-year-olds, in France they can be responsible for eight — and there are no limits in Denmark, Germany or Sweden. Yet the quality of childcare in these countries is as good as, if not better than what’s on offer here, and the carers themselves are better paid and more respected.

We must stop thinking of childcare as something that anyone can do, and instead see it as a profession. We must trust trained and qualified child minders to use their discretion over how many children they take on. And we as a nation must get away from the idea that regulation equates to safety — it does not. We at Childcare for All are campaigning for just that, as only then will parents have access to quality childcare at a price that’s affordable for all.

Donna Edmunds is director of the Childcare for All campaign

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Show comments
  • DrCrackles

    The family must be abolished through the communising of childcare. This is the goal of the social revolutionaries. Mothers must be separated from their offspring. This is done by pushing mothers into the workplace either under the influence of feminist propaganda or through financial necessity.

    It is interesting that the idea that children can be looked after by so called professionals is seen as a good thing on these pages. The liberal left have one the argument and we are left to talk about ratios?!?

  • Jupiter

    People should look after their own kids instead of expecting the government to do it for them.

  • Shlomo

    Trawling the forums on Mumsnet it’s not long before you hear tales of
    woe from this group: wives whose salary covers the childcare costs with
    just a few pounds left over at the end of the month. They do it to keep
    their careers ticking over

    There’s a moral to that story somewhere…

    And that’s why he’s keen to see an end to the discussion of relaxing ratios.

    I don’t believe that any policy or proposal that now emanates from the lips of our provincial government is elaborated in isolation. In this case, it’s simply another example of one of our provincial governors looking to harmonise childcare policy with other EU member states. This is the ideological basis for the theatrics we read about in the MSM.

    We must stop thinking of childcare as something that anyone can do, and instead see it as a profession.

    Why must we? Women have been looking after children since the year dot, why would they suddenly need a qualification?

    Donna Edmunds is director of the Childcare for All campaign

    As I can’t find any record of your campaign online, you must be Donna Edmunds of UKIP…who is behind this campaign?

  • HJ777

    “Childcare for all” is a bit of a silly slogan. Not everyone either wants or needs childcare.

    I am not convinced that state regulation is helpful. For some people childcare would never make economic sense though because they simply don’t earn enough to pay someone else to look after their children. Only a subsidy would make it worthwhile for them (but still wouldn’t make more general economic sense) and those who don’t want or need childcare would be forced to subsidise those who do..

    The other factor that is often ignored in this debate is to do with regulation but is nothing to do with ratios. It is the dramatic drop in the number of childminders, caused by an onerous inspection/qualification regime. Childminding was always cheaper because no special premises, and all the costs involved with special premises, were required. This has been a major factor in increasing costs.

    My wife is a professional childcarer, by the way. The inspection regime is ludicrously bureaucratic and costly.

  • Alexsandr

    why does the state have to regulate ratios? Childcare is a private provision. If parents want a 3:1 ratio they can find a provider who does that. If they can accept 5:1 at a lower price then they find a provider who does that. Its called choice.

    Besides there is a difference between one person looking after 5 and 4 people looking after 20.

    • Shlomo

      Quite. Excellent point!

      • LB

        It’s the same with the living wage.

        Look at where their money goes, and a huge percentage is going on tax.

        Stop taxing those in poverty, and not only are people inventivised to work, but they keep more money.

        The DWP spends 5% of what it pays out on admin. Imagine the uproar is a pension company took 5% of your payouts each year.

        It is in the states power to stop taxing people below living wage levels.

        However, it won’t. It is desperate for cash no matter what the damage it causes. Very simple reason, its bankrupt. Ask yourself where it reports the unfunded pension debts.

        • Alexsandr

          dont forget NI on low wages…

  • Chris lancashire

    At last, common sense – regulation doesn’t equate to safety; it equates to ticking the box and passing the buck. Excellent article and all power to Childcare for All.

  • LB

    Tax. It’s all about tax.

    The state is taking too much tax.

    Not only are these people having to pay out of taxed income, that money has to pay the pre tax wages and national insurance of the workers on top.

    it’s taxes on top of taxes on top of taxes, …

    Hence its screwed.

    • Shlomo

      Yes, it really is. An excellent point.

    • dalai guevara

      If what you state had an ounce of truth in it, why is it that higher tax nations such as Norway and Germany can afford to provide 12 months maternity leave on near full pay, 2 months paternity leave on near full pay, then from year one, free (!) statutory childcare, then free (!) good schools, then virtually free (!) university education?

      That easily amounts to a £200k saving per young adult turning to find an employer. How can they afford £200k, per child?

      The answer is of course: tax (well, and less waste, but I am not going there)

      • HJ777

        So what you are saying is that we get very little for our taxes compared to other countries (the German government consumes a lower proportion of GDP than does ours).

        I agree.

        • dalai guevara

          A quick comparison of German and British social protection/services expenditure shows that whilst we supposedly have comparable levels of unemployment, Germany spends £110bn pa, we easily spend double that. A much larger number of people here appear to be on the poverty line.


          • HJ777

            Your “quick comparison” is wrong. You haven’t compared like with like.

            We get less for our money than they do. This might just have something to do with the efficiency and cost of the public sector.

            • dalai guevara

              I just cannot see how inefficiencies in the public sector could make such a vast difference. The discrepancies are frankly too huge on paper, yet on the ground we are not running an socialist East Germany-type state. That is simply not the case. I believe LB is on the right track.

          • LB

            And what does that show you? It shows you that the state is bad value.

            Why for example does the DWP cost 5% of everything it gives out in admin fees?

            Imagine the row if a private pension supplier raked off that cut.

            The state is bad for people in the UK. Face up to it.

            If a median wage earner had invested their NI over their working life, they would have a fund of 627K pounds. State pension costs 152K. The rest has gone in charges and be siphoned off for other things. They could have been honest and said, we’re going to tax your state pension. However people would have objected.

            So they do it by stealth, and since the money has been long stolen, by the time it matters it is too late.

            Just like the support for families. They can’t because they have run up debts to pay,. on and off the books. That needs tax, and it needs tax to not go on services but servicing the debts.

            Welcome to the screwed up world of the state helping you not.

            • dalai guevara

              I agree again, only that it strikes me that PSND is somehow also laden with other peoples’ debt, that do not belong there.

              You are much more an expert than I would claim to be.
              What is row 32 in this ONS table? How could it possibly be something the taxpayer would be liable for, yet it is excluded in official reporting?


              • LB

                I suspect it is this. The numbers, 1.3 trillion are the same ballpark.


                If you notice from the link, the money has all be repaid.

                The rate of interest charged was a penal rate of interest. The BoE profited from it. From memory, they booked at 35 bn profit on the transactions.

                In general, I disagree with some commentators that include banking liabilities on the books and exclude the banks assets in the process. That presents a false view.

                For guarantees, the correct accounting approach is to book the expected losses on the transactions, less the present value of any contractual payments. This is exactly what an insurance firm would do with its insurance contracts. It books its assets. 100% of all houses aren’t going to burn down, so you book an actuarial percentage of the sum insured.

                For banks that are wholly owned, you book both assets and liabilities. It is net debt (or net assets) that matter. It’s much smaller.

                Now I’ve had quite a few propose that future tax payments should be treated as an asset of the state. The moral argument is that is implying the state owns you. However, lets say it is valid. At the same time however, by identical logic, you have to book future spending on the state’s serfs as a liability. Since taxes are less than spending, by that logic the average serf is a liability on the books.

                Net debts is one of the two crucial measures. Can you pay your net debts?

                The other is cashflow.

                There are two conditions on bankruptcy.

                In the case of the state, it will partially default by not paying out on its side of the deals. e.g. Means test the state pension. Increase the retirement age unilaterally. Change from RPI to CPI. They all result in breaking the deal, and paying out less. Expect a lot more.

                The welfare cap is all about this. Pensions are welfare. If there is a cap, then they set pensioner against welfare claimant, diverting attention from their fraudulent role in it all.

      • LB

        Or debt.

        Or in the case of Norway, a large soveriegn wealth fund investing oil revenues.

        The answer is not, of course, tax.

        For example, why would he UK have hidden a 5,300 bn debt off its books? That’s with high taxes to boot.

        • dalai guevara

          I agree, the bookkeeping lie must end, as it heavily distorts the true picture.

          • LB

            The lie is in fact irrelevant.

            The problem is the debt. It is so large it cannot be paid.

            Now consider the consequences.

            They are dire.

            Childcare – gone
            Pensions – gone
            Healthcare – decimated
            Taxes – raised.

            Its cuts cuts and more cuts with taxes piled on taxes. Unlike private companies, they will use violence to get their money off you.