Opinion: Improving childcare policies hit by Brexit
- Credit: Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons
Brexit and the Conservative leadership contest continue to dominate the media’s attention.
This is entirely understandable, given the absolute chaos that awaits the country should we leave the EU with no deal on October 31. The risks of no deal are more important when we consider the significant policy challenges that already dominate day-to-day life.
One such challenge lies in early years education, which is critical to boosting a child's future life chances. It is vital that the government, local authorities, practitioners and politicians all invest the time and resources required to deliver high quality early education for every child. At present, this is not happening.
Successive governments have tried to lift the burden on parents by offering funded childcare provision for three- and four-year-old children. However, since the introduction of the 30-hours policy, early years settings have closed or have been pushed to the brink of closure. According to think tank Ceeda, one in 10 pre-school settings don't believe that they will be trading in one year's time.
As chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Childcare and Early Education, I responded by launching a formal inquiry into the sustainability of the private and voluntary childcare settings.
The aim of our Steps to Sustainability report has primarily sought to harness the sector's experience and make a series of constructive recommendations to support every setting across the country. This week we published our report, with recommendations focusing on funding, social mobility and the long-term steps required for sustainability.
Specifically, we have called upon the government to prioritise closing the funding gap in deprived areas, and to commit to a cross-department review of early years' funding rates. We are also asking that the treasury delivers full business rate relief to providers, with many saying they are a major cause for uncertainty over the future. These three steps alone would ensure that providers can cover the costs of delivery. We have also issued recommendations to ease the burden on staff recruitment.
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Childcare is a low-wage, highly-skilled profession, but many settings are struggling to pay competitive salaries compared to other sectors such as retail. We want to see greater efficiencies in reporting requirements to ease the workload burden on the sector, without compromising standards.
Lastly, our APPG has called for Universal Credit to allow payments direct from the government to childcare providers. We have done so because we want to address the difficulties faced by many parents who are currently required to make upfront payments, forcing them into an intolerable financial predicament.
These concerns have been raised by our APPG on many occasions during our meetings since we were established in 2017, and they have been echoed by the education and treasury select committees, as well as many sector experts and analysts. However the Steps to Sustainability report arrives at a crucial time. With a spending review, a new prime minister and a catastrophic no deal Brexit on the horizon, there are major decisions to be taken.
I urge the government to take on board our recommendations and provide the funding and support needed to successfully, and sustainably, to deliver its childcare policies.