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More free childcare – but this should just be the start

It’s only 19 days in for the new Government and today it announced its agenda for the coming year in the Queen’s Speech. This is a key time for those of us looking to make things work better for you.

Some meaty issues important for those who use public services have been put on the table.

After a year of campaigning by Which?, the Government has announced its intention to create a new Public Service Ombudsman replacing the current fragmented system.

Why reform of the public service complaints system is vital

Before the election, we raised with the party leaders the need for them to commit to reform the public service complaints system.

This was after we found that 5.3 million people who had a problem with a public service didn’t complain, and key reasons for not complaining were because they felt they would be victimised or nothing would be done to resolve their complaint.

More than 83,000 people now support our campaign, and 14,000 people have submitted stories and evidence to Which?. These have helped us to argue for the reforms to be brought forward. We’re one step closer to making complaints count in public services.

There are still gaps in the system, though. One of which is in childcare. We want further reforms to the complaints system, and for childcare to be included in the remit of the new Public Service Ombudsman.

Currently, there is nowhere parents can turn to get redress if they have a problem with their childcare provider – one thing we want to solve through the new Ombudsman.

Childcare Bill in the Queen’s Speech

Young child with abacus and blackboardThe Government also announced a Childcare Bill in the Queen’s Speech, which will increase the entitlement to free childcare to 30 hours a week for parents of three and four-year-olds.

This will be a welcome helping hand to parents dealing with the eye-watering cost of childcare. But this should be just the start of the reforms.

We want parents to have access to better information about the quality of nurseries and childminders, and for it to be easier to complain when things go wrong.

Are you a parent who uses childcare? Tell us how you decided on a childcare provider. Where did you get information from to help with your decision?

Jen says:
1 June 2015

I am shocked and depressed listening to news coverage about childcare how little (generally none) reference there is to CHILDREN and what’s best for them. We’re not talking about car parking here, but human beings.

Finding the right care for your child is fundamentally about setting up good relationships. By ‘better information’ you presumably mean ratings and official reviews. But outsourcing this kind of decision to Ofsted reports or reviews isn’t helpful, and undermines rather than supports parents’ decision-making. I’ve seen too many parents ditch their own judgement in favour of relying on someone else’s box-ticking exercise. And these just don’t tell you the things you really care about. One childminder I know, some years ago, raised serious concerns with their social worker contact about another childminder, only to be dismissed with, ‘Her paperwork is exemplary.’ My sister once (briefly) worked in a nursery where the babies had their nappies changed every two hours – never mind when they needed changing. She described it glumly as ‘a baby farm’. It was highly rated. I daresay their paperwork was fabulous and they put on a good show for inspection.

As a parent, I couldn’t have given a stuff about my childminder’s paperwork – as well as recommendations from parents and childminders I knew and trusted, I chose her on the basis of observing her interactions with children at toddler group and talking to her to find out more about her approach and activities. There really isn’t any other good way of doing it.

No question, the cost of childcare is a worry for working parents, but what we really want is the best care for our children, and to be able to combine work and parenting in a way that’s affordable. Many parents would like that to mean being able to afford to do more of it ourselves. This is clearly better for children than long hours in underfunded childcare settings. The government would do better to encourage and support flexible working options for parents, better quality part time work, and/or tax breaks for periods where parents are at home doing full time child care.

I also take issue with the way the discussion seems to focus purely on cost. Suggesting it should be cheap (the only way that it can be affordable for everyone, even in the lowest paid jobs) is pretty insulting to people who work in this sector, and also to the parents who choose to stay at home with children.

Childcare is a service, but it’s a bit different to finding a good builder, or buying a product. The first few years of a child’s life are absolutely vital to their development, and it’s not trivial to just move them somewhere else if you decide you don’t like the choice you made. It’s not just a question of what’s good for parents – we need a proper discussion about what’s best for children – and long hours in a nursery (free or otherwise) is unlikely to be it.

My suggestion is that parents should be doing most of the childcare. Traditionally this was done by the mother but there is no reason why it cannot be shared.

At present many people find their jobs stressful, though the reason can vary greatly. I’m sure that looking after kids can be stressful at times, but it is a different kind of stress.

Anyone who cares for their children should be spending time with them.

I realise that single-parent families and those children with disabilities, behavioural problems, etc. are special case.

Jen says:
1 June 2015

Spot on wavechange. Parents want to spend time with their children. Parents struggle to make ends meet and keep careers going through the baby and toddler years. Throwing an inadequate amount of money at free nursery care is only one possible answer to these problems, and not the one which is best for children.

When we started a family it was when we decided we could afford it with the mother staying home to raise the children – albeit with sacrifices made in other area such as holidays,new furniture and the “luxuries” of life. I do not see why, except in special cases, the taxes you and I pay from our hard-earned income should subsidise someone else who is not currently financially stable enough to raise children, or to fund childcare themselves. I see having children as a personal choice and a financial and social responsibility, not a right that you can expect others to pay for.

I tend to agree, Malcolm, but the next step could be to say that only the rich should have children or (heaven forbid) the size of a family being seen as a measure of success.

We were certainly not rich when we had children, but were prudent with limited funds, made sacrifices, and managed to make ends meet. Our only subsidy was child benefit of course but that was not vital. We got by. There is no reason at all to expect that only the “rich” can have children.

Jen says:
1 June 2015

I do think there’s a place for the state to support parents – parenting is a socially useful thing to do. Social changes mean it’s increasingly difficult for a family to get by on a single income, no matter how willing they are to make sacrifices. It’s one thing to skip holidays, quite another to skip meals. I think it’s a desperate shame that such support should be focused only on free childcare rather than on other ways to help families. The total focus on parents who do paid work denigrates the value of parenting.


apologies if you’ve tried to post to this discussion previously. An error this end meant that comments were closed. We’ve fixed it now and would very much like to hear your views! Again, sorry for our error.

As far as I can see from the Gov website “All 3 to 4-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year” which presumably will increase to 1040 hours. What surprises (shocks) me is I can see no restriction on income. Please tell me I’ve missed it. So a wealthy working couple can farm out their children and get a subsidy of, presumably, around £220 per week per child. Is this so?
If we have spare money (my and your taxes) to distribute I’d like it to go to the NHS, the vulnerable, on better pensions for the needy, not used indiscriminately to subsidise all and sundry. I hope I have misread the policy.

Jen says:
1 June 2015

No, this was raised on the Today programme this morning. So the government takes away child benefit (paid regardless of work status) from higher-income families, but is proposing to offer them free parking for their children…

Jen says:
1 June 2015

I meant ‘no, you’re right’. Sorry, that wasn’t very clear!