The Pre School Learning Alliance has warned that the UK government’s pre-election pledge to double free childcare for three and four year-olds could cause “meltdown” in a system which they claim is at “breaking point”. Working parents will see the current 15 hours a week allowance for childcare or early education doubled under proposals set out by the Conservatives, with ministers insisting that trials of the new scheme be brought forward to 2016, not September 2017 as initially proposed.
The PSLA claims that funding levels currently fall 20 percent short of the actual cost to its members of looking after the children and some of them are having to find ways to skirt around the system and charge parents a fee for looking after their offspring. Although they are not allowed to invoice parents for the difference between their grant and the full price of childcare, they can insist that children are with them for a minimum amount of hours, over and above the free time, or they can increase prices for younger children who do not qualify for the free places yet.
When questioned, Employment Minister Priti Patel admitted that “funding rates need to increase”, although it is unclear in times of extended austerity where that cash will come from. Still, at least she didn’t panic like Grant Shapps before the election when he claimed that the cost of allowing everyone three days paid volunteer work would be paid for easily because “when people volunteer they take fewer sick days.”