Children are expensive. They devour food, hobbies, toys and expenses most parents hadn’t even heard of before starting this eventful journey. However, childcare can rank as one of the highest expenses for the parents of young children. As Early Years practitioners, it is important to explore the difficulties faced by a generation of parents and the impact it has on the development of their children.
Sending your child to nursery is a big milestone for parents and it is normally an emotional time for both parents and kids. Nonetheless, it is important for the development of the child.
An all-day nursery that follows the early years foundation stage (EYFS) provides structured learning and support tailored to the needs of individuals. It prepares them with social skills and confidence and is a useful way to acclimatise them to the sort of environment they will experience when they start school. Activities like play can improve the development of a child in a wide range of cognitive, behavioural and emotional areas.
Respite for parents from the demands of their children is also an important factor for parents to consider when choosing childcare options. The ability to work full time hours or go back to work can prompt some difficult decisions when cost is involved.
Yes – it is too expensive
However, this structured and highly professional environment requires expensive facilities and trained staff that are able to spend time observing children, planning activities and completing thorough paperwork. This means that the costs of childcare can be eye-watering. This is also true of alternative childcare provisions, including childminders, part-time carers and au pairs, which can run into many hundreds of pounds per week.
The Family and Childcare Trust have researched the cost of childcare and their results were startling. Families can spend up to 45% of their disposal income on average childcare costs. It can cost families double what they spend on food and drink. This is worrying considering the importance of good nutrition on child development, apart from other activities and hobbies that are important for children.
Accessibility of childcare is also a significant issue. 50% of councils in England reported that there wasn’t enough childcare in their area for full-time parents, increases to 75% in Scotland and 80% in Wales.
Finally, the complexity of the system and the financial incentives available for parents means that it does not always benefit adults to choose work and full-time childcare.
No – it is not too expensive
Whilst childcare costs are very high, other people argue that it can be afforded and the government schemes and subsidies make it a more accessible option for parents. Recently, the cost has stayed fairly constant. For example, nursery prices for under twos were up by only 0.1% between 2016 and 2017. However, before this they did rise much higher than inflation, so this may not always be the case.
Government support for childcare has been emphasised and increased in recent years. All parents in the UK can receive help with childcare through early education entitlements for some two-year olds and all three-year olds. From September 2017, some working parents in England have been entitled to 30 hours a week free childcare.
An unfortunate side-effect of this is that nurseries are facing financial difficulties because of the number of parents enrolling for the free childcare hours. This has meant that many providers have had to increase their charges for one and two-year-old places in order to make up the shortfall.
Overall, therefore, whilst there are many options available and free hours, the question of whether childcare is too expensive depends on the individual circumstances of families.
Someone who is going to a full-time job will face different challenges to those working part-time, with lower incomes or those who can draw on the resources of willing family members to help out looking after children.