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Camden mothers fear axing nursery places will drive women out of work

PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 July 2015

Angela Mason

Angela Mason

Archant

Mothers are fighting plans to axe nursery places in Camden over fears it will discourage women to return to work after having a baby.

Camden Council has consulted on plans to cut all places for under-twos as well as its subsidised places for two-year-olds from middle to high-income households at its 14 children’s centres.

The changes are being proposed to help it make £1.5million worth of savings from its early education and childcare services, to plug a £70million funding gap left by cuts to its central government grant.

The council has pledged to keep all of its children’s centres open.

But parents on middle incomes remain concerned that the proposed cuts would mean many – particularly women – could no longer afford to return to work if forced to pay expensive private nursery rates.

Julia Griese, 34, whose two young children have subsidised places at Harmood Children’s Centre in Camden Town, said: “If I had a baby now and in six months I was looking to go back to work, I would really struggle.”

The economist, of Fellows Road, Hampstead suggests that subsidised places should be retained but are more rigorously means-tested, with parents allocated bands based on their household income and the highest earners paying rates akin to private nurseries.

Currently, the council provides 136 places for two-year-olds, half of which are subsidised and available to all families regardless of income.

It also provides 69 subsidised nursery places for under-twos.

But as it looks to make cuts, the council says it must ensure it has enough places for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Under the changes proposed in a consultation with parents and carers, the council would increase the number of nursery places for two-year-olds from low-income households who are eligible for the national offer of 15 hours of free childcare. Any remaining places would go to two-year-olds from households which receive tax credits or housing benefit.

But to do this, it would cut all places for under-twos, which currently cost about £10 an hour per child. It would only provide spaces for babies classed as “children in need” with childcare from Ofsted-registered childminders.

It could also no longer offer subsidised nursery places to two-year-olds from middle to high-income households.

Jo Coughlin, of Gloucester Avenue, Primrose Hill, whose two children also have subsidised places at Harmood Children’s Centre, said: “I’m concerned about this because of the impact on working mums. I’m a paying parent but it doesn’t mean I can afford to pay for a private nursery.”

The council is the best-funded early years service provider in the country, receiving £27million in funding. It allows the authority to be one of the few nationwide to offer three and four-year-olds 25 hours of free childcare, even before Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to offer 30 hours of free childcare a week to families earlier this year.

Cllr Angela Mason, cabinet member for children, said the authority was proposing the changes with a heavy heart.

She said: “We have to make a difficult decision. We need to ensure that those who are least able to afford it can have childcare.”

Camden is also consulting online at camden.gov.uk until July 31 on providing health, housing and employment advice at five “lead” children’s centres. Nine others would only offer early education and childcare services.

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