The Real Cost of Childcare – Funding, Finances and ‘Free’ Sessions

As further announcements have emerged of Government money and grants being ‘put into’ the Early Years sector in the form of ‘hubs’ to develop and support high quality teaching and learning, we have been reflecting on the real cost of childcare and what these Government initiatives really mean for our sector and us as providers. 

For years now, as providers we have been fighting to justify to parents and other professionals alike that the ‘Free Entitlement’ funding we receive for children is not in fact ‘free’ and has to be subsidised in some way, often at a loss to our businesses/income. 

The Government and DfE continually advertise and publicise this funding as ‘free’ to all, when in fact, that is simply not the case when Local Authorities simply cannot match the funding rates proposed and so often, for most providers there is a significant shortfall between funding rates and how much of this funding providers actually receive, and so when parents are asked to subsidise the shortfall in the form of meals or a voluntary contribution to cover this shortfall, this can cause significant issues with parents who have been led to believe that there will be absolutely no cost at all. 

Whilst the Free Entitlement initiative is fantastic in essence and allows so many more children and families to access services and this early education, it is not without its implications, for both providers and parents alike. 

Similarly, as a severely underfunded and under-supported sector, news of new Government initiatives, schemes and grants can fill us with much anticipation and excitement, and usually leads to significant disappointment and distress when the details of these schemes are often less than supportive of the work we do and the care we provide. 

The more schemes and initiatives that are announced only add to the frustration and despair of our sector. Since the pandemic began, so many settings and individual providers alike are struggling to make ends meet and with the cost of living increasing so significantly, it’s getting harder and harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s no wonder so many settings are forced to close their doors after dedicating their lives and careers to children and providing consistent and high quality childcare. 

Instead of schemes, initiatives and ‘high quality training and support hubs’, that no doubt will be allocated to  large private sector settings, as a sector all we are asking for is a Government who listen to the needs of its service users and providers, who will willingly invest in a sector that has constantly been failed, let down and under-supported, long before the pandemic began and who just want financial support and investment in things that will actually enhance and support the lives of the children we care for and enable us to adequately sustain our businesses. 

We don’t need multi-million pounds investments in training and ‘catch up’ schemes, we need adequate funding rates, support with bills and resources and sufficient investment in our sector as a whole, not to mention the decline of early years advisors that used to be out visiting and supporting settings, not just in staff CPD and training, these don’t support the work we do every single day, these don’t allow us to spend more time with the children, these don’t pay our crippling overheads and staff wages, these don’t bridge the gap between funding rates and our income, and so if that sum of money is available to ‘invest’ – why can’t it be invested into the things our sector, and our children really need? For once, can we be heard, listened to and supported financially, economically and professionally? 

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