Parents pay price for 30 hours free childcare as nurseries hike fees to cover it
Thousands of Government-accredited nurseries across the country have been forced to push prices up in the past year, defeating the point of 30 hours free childcare entirely.
New figures have found that 53% of private nurseries have hiked their fees in the past 12 months, as they struggle to make up the shortfall caused by insufficient funding for the Tory flagship scheme.
A document published by the Department for Education (DfE) shows more than half of businesses have increased their prices for at least one age group since October 2017.
It follows the launch of 30 hours free childcare in September 2017, which was designed to offer free care to working parents of three-and four-year-olds during term time.
However, since being implemented, it has come under fire for its low funding.
Earlier this year one nursery owner told The Mirror she receives just £4.53 from the Government per hour per child. That’s compared to the nursery’s usual £6 an hour rate.
It means by delivering 30 hours for free, her nursery is losing £44.10 per child a week, making it near impossible to pay for bills, rent or even staff on the minimum wage.
As a result of this, many nurseries are finding themselves charging extra fees elsewhere to cover everyday costs such as staffing and training – while those who refuse to do so are at risk of going bust.
It means parents are increasingly finding themselves paying more as a result of the ‘free’ service, rendering it almost pointless.
The DfE’s report found at least half of parents who took up 30 hours of free childcare are now being asked to pay for additional extras such as lunches, snacks and outings.
Even excluding these charges, 48% of parents eligible for the funding are still having to pay at least some fees each term: £76.50 per week on average.
In total, £1billion a year has been set aside to pay for the flagship policy.
But experts say the Government isn’t properly filling the funding gap.
"Systemic under-funding has left many providers struggling to break even, forcing them to choose between increasing fees and risking closure," explained Neil Leitch, of the Pre-school Learning Alliance.
"And, with the national living and minimum wages set to rise next April, this financial pressure is only going to get worse. Only when ministers commit to increasing funding will providers be able to stop asking parents to pick up the Government’s tab."
The research reveals it is predominantly better-off families who are benefiting from the extra £1billion a year set aside by the Government to fund free childcare.
While the majority (58%) of families who earn £45,000 or more have taken up the offer, just a quarter (26%) of those earning under £20,000 have done so, suggesting childcare remains unaffordable for many low-income parents.
Labour MP and shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin added: "The Tories’ flagship offer simply isn’t living up the promises they made in the election, and the consequences are being felt by parents across the country.
"Fees are rising, free places come with hidden costs, and too many families aren’t eligible for the support they need – while nurseries and other providers are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy."
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