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Tory childcare scheme is a mess, but Labour offer no solution

The Tories promise to provide 15 hours of free childcare has utterly fallen apart
Issue 2899
Sunak childcare nurseries

The Tories childcare scheme could mean that some parents will pay more Picture: Number 10 on Flickr

The Tory’s much-vaunted “free childcare” scheme launched this week–and it is already mired in chaos.

Under the plans parents of two-year-old children should get 15 hours a week of free childcare at a nursery or registered childminder—during term time.

But the government has underfunded its offer, meaning lots of providers are not offering any free places, while others are closing down altogether.

Many parents report that local nurseries are “full up”, with no physical space to expand and with waiting lists that stretch to well over a year.

And some nurseries are ramping up fees for children not yet covered by the government’s scheme in the hope of covering the funding shortfall. For some parents, that could mean that total childcare costs actually rise. 

Eleanor in Sheffield, who has three children in nursery, told the Guardian newspaper that she had used six different providers in the last seven years because of the struggle to find places.

“My family has a low income and receives tax credits towards our childcare costs. 

“If more childcare places were available, I would be able to work a less flexible job, which would mean we earned more,” she said.

“The cost of childcare, the lack of places and providers, and the government’s failure to properly fund and support the childcare system impacts every aspect of our family life and keeps us in a financially precarious situation.”

At least 40,000 nursery places have been lost since the Tories came to office in 2010. The Labour party this week accused the Tories of having a “childcare pledge without a plan”.

But Labour is also refusing to commit to fully funding.  Instead it offers a “review” of the sector.

We don’t need a review to point out the obvious—that the crisis in childcare reflects both the deep sexism built into capitalism, and its desire for profit.

It is overwhelmingly working class women who are forced to abandon full time work because of childcare costs. 

And because the sector is divided between thousands of small, private providers that all want to make a profit, there can be little nationwide planning for childcare.

Instead of delaying, Labour should announce plans to make childcare more like education. It should be funded and provided by the state—and free for all. 

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