Childcare – the giant ‘elephant in the budget’!

What do you do when you have made a HUGE faux pas – ignore it it seems! Childcare was completely ignored in yesterday’s budget! I was approached and primed to do a couple of radio interviews yesterday, ‘be ready to record a response to the budget as far as childcare is concerned’ I was told and then, nothing! However, I still actually did two radio interviews as I still had a message……

It was glaringly obvious to me that the Government know they have made some huge mistakes when it comes to childcare and in particular the new 30hours ‘Free Childcare’ policy as it became the giant elephant in the room that no one was talking about!

The Guardian reported yesterday on the number of childcare settings that have closed since this policy was announced and included concerns from Tracy Brabin MP regarding the childcare sector and where it is heading, something that I highlighted in an open letter to the then Prime Minister in 2015! My message then was ‘we are heading for crisis’. My message now ‘we are already there!’

The Chancellor claims that this was a budget for families and the future of Britain, how can he be so far from reality?

The Government want people in employment, but he also wants a next generation which means women need to have babies and therefore families need to be viable. For women to have babies they need to be able to afford to take the time off work, the current Statutory Maternity Pay & leave entitlement is damaging to both mum, baby and the family unit and it was ignored in the budget. Current SMP pays for mums to only take 6 months of leave from when they leave work – this is forcing mums to work as late in to their pregnancy as possible to maximise the paid time they actually have with their baby once born. This is putting pregnant mums under immense stress during their last trimester and studies have proven the links of stress, particularly in the last trimester to increased risks of premature birth, stillbirth, neonatal death and mental health concerns in babies and later life. For mums, this also increases their risk of not bonding with their baby and post natal depression, this in turn putting pressure on the entire family unit! Whoever, came up with this policy in the first place – well done, I hope you are proud!

However, lets also look at the rest of the SMP policy. Mums can take 6 months paid leave which we have already established is taken at the end of the pregnancy so that mum can attempt to have approximately 6 months without too much financial worry with their baby. Currently, when paid SMP finishes mums can take an additional 6 months unpaid or use up their accrued holiday, the latter is what most manage from a financial position, so baby is approximately 7-8 months when mum returns to work. For most, returning to work means using childcare and using childcare means leaving their baby with strangers. Now, if anyone making these policies had an ounce of knowledge of babies and their needs they would have known that 7-9 months is a crucial developmental phase of separation anxiety for babies. So, what great idea to put in place a maternity pay policy that means it ends and therefore mums are kind of forced in to leaving their babies just at a crucial developmental stage that means they are traumatised to be away from mum and therefore struggle to bond with carers – NOT! So by not addressing this in the budget the Government are contributing to the detrimental mental health and wellbeing of future generations!

But it doesn’t end there! The Government had an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is and support families when they need it the most – returning to work after maternity leave and yet again it has been ignored in the budget! Mums returning to work, and therefore the family unit are already out of pocket the day they start work as they have to pay for a whole month of childcare fees before they receive their first pay cheque at the end of the month. For many mums, the cost of childcare itself makes it almost not worth returning to work (going against Government’s needs) and so instead of looking at how they can support the childcare industry, for example by making childcare zero rated for VAT which would immediately reduce some of the financial pressures on the industry, it again ignored childcare in the budget. Instead it just left in place the faux pas that is the 30hrs policy.

I also have to mention the fact that the 30hrs policy is merely ‘propping up’ the education industry to the detriment of the childcare sector as we are all ‘fighting’ over the same funding!. Surely education should concentrate on educating children from the age of 5 and be funded adequately instead of scrabbling around for children aged 3 & 4 just to access some extra funding that can be spread across the school. This would allow childcare to do the job it did extremely well before these policies came in to place and that is provide full day care to working parents – you can’t have it both ways!

By leaving the 30hours policy in place and by not even addressing the fact that it is under funding the policy, it means that childcare settings are forced to fund the shortfall elsewhere, and you guessed it, it has to come from those parents with children under 3 and therefore means increased childcare costs to parents returning to work. Is only me who can see the vicious circle new families are forced in to by these Government policies???

It’s not rocket science Mr Chancellor, you have to look at the implications of a policy before blindly introducing it!

Currently, you are contributing to:

  • the detriment of family mental health wellbeing,
  • developmental delays in children,
  • the lack of women returning to work after maternity,
  • an increase in families needing financial support from Government,
  • an increase on NHS mental health services,
  • the pressures in the education system,
  • the rising costs of childcare!