Plan to slash childcare costs by using fewer staff

Jan 29, 2013

Education minister under fire for proposing to increase ratio of carers to babies

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THE childcare system is "in crisis", but proposals by education minister Elizabeth Truss to cut costs by allowing nurseries and childminders to look after more infants will "only make things worse", some commentators say.

Writing in The Guardian, columnist Polly Toynbee says the main aims of the plan Truss announced today – to increase the number of childcare places, cut costs and get more mothers back to work – are "admirable". But Toynbee argues that the quality of British childcare is "in danger of getting worse" as the ratio of childminders to babies is relaxed. "No doubt children can be kept safe, fed and reasonably clean – but this risks becoming warehousing, not care," she writes.

Under the plan, staff will be able to take charge of six two-year-olds rather than four, while the ratio for under-ones will go up from three to four. The changes are part of a broader plan that will also require child carers to be better qualified. The overall aim is to cut the cost of childcare, which consumes 27 per cent of the average British family's income – the second highest proportion in the world.

Anand Shukla, head of the Daycare Trust, a charity campaigning for quality and affordable childcare, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he welcomed the push to raise carers' qualifications. But he added that his organisation was "worried about this trade-off between increasing the qualifications of staff and increasing the number of children you can look after".

The Spectator's Isabel Hardman says "no one disagrees" with Truss's aim to cut the spiralling cost of childcare. Her plan was supposed to benefit from a new unity within the Coalition that was pledged as part of the government's mid-term review earlier this month, she writes.

But the plan announced today does not include a tax break for parents with young children, although the idea was "heavily briefed ahead of the mid-term review". The fact that "a policy was detailed in pre-launch briefings, then delayed, and is now being partially announced, with more to come" suggests the Coalition has not sorted out its differences in a mature way, Hardman notes.

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