Viewpoints: What should be done about rising childcare costs?

A baby in a pram, wiping her eyes with her hands

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Families are struggling as the cost of bringing up a child has risen to £148,000, according to research for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The report, co-funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says costs have risen by 4% over the last year.

At the same time it says the value of benefit payments has fallen in real terms.

The government has said such cuts are necessary in order to reduce the UK welfare bill.

A central part of the issue has been the cost of childcare. In May, the coalition government openly disagreed over proposals to let childminders and nurseries look after more children at any one time, in an effort to cut costs.

A selection of experts below discuss the implications of childcare costs and what should be done about them.

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Siobhan Freegard

The country and economy would be better served by adapting flexible working practices to allow women to "remote-work" from home”

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Siobhan Freegard, founder of

Studies show UK childcare costs are some of the highest in the world with nursery and child-minder fees eating up to a third of parents' incomes. After rent or mortgage, paying for childcare is the single biggest cost for working families - and undoubtedly this is preventing parents from having more children.

On Netmums we regularly hear from families who cannot afford to have a second child due to crippling childcare costs of £1,000 a month or more. Official figures from the ONS [Office for National Statistics] show this is a rapidly growing trend, with 47% of UK families now including just one child.

Many mums have to work as they need to support their families while others are keen to continue their career - but emerging evidence suggests putting children into long hours of childcare from a very young age could be detrimental to their development.

Siobhan Freegard

  • Mother of three children, aged 10, 12 and 16
  • Founder of parenting website Netmums

Instead of a regimented and outdated economic model which insists women must go out to work while their children are tiny, the country and economy would be better served by adapting flexible working practices to allow women to "remote-work" from home or choose shifts which fit around family life, reducing the need for childcare and the costs families have to pay.

Not only would this ensure employers retain talented women, get higher productivity and more employer loyalty from female staff; it would mean mums can spend more quality time with their children, leading to happy and well-adjusted children. Top companies like BT and John Lewis already offer mum-friendly working and are growing as a result. It's a win-win for firms and families.

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Anand Shukla

We need to simplify the way we subsidise childcare in Britain. We'd like to see an extension of free nursery education”

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Anand Shukla, of the Family and Childcare Trust

Childcare costs have increased significantly over the last 10 years, with a nursery place for a child aged two or under now 77% more expensive in real terms than in 2003. A nursery place now costs an average of £4.26 per hour. For 40 hours per week over 52 weeks of the year, this adds up to nearly £9,000 per year.

Although the government provides help with childcare costs, through tax credits (for those on the lowest incomes), through childcare vouchers and some part-time free nursery provision, many parents still struggle with childcare costs and for some it is a barrier to work.

But it's important that childcare is high quality and not delivered on the cheap. High costs are not merely about childcare providers charging high fees to cash-strapped parents. The [government's] case for increasing staff [to children] ratios is not supported by our research and it is unlikely that any increase in staff ratios would see a reduction in costs to parents, but may affect the quality of childcare.

While we welcomed the recent government announcement about extending tax-free childcare to more parents, we were concerned that the poorest families will receive no additional help, but those on high incomes would qualify. The new scheme - which will offer support of £1,200 per child - is also administratively complex and initially would not extend to children of school age.

Anand Shukla

  • Chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust
  • Has advised government in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff on childcare policy

A number of countries offer different models, and the most successful are in Norway and Finland where the cost of childcare for working parents is subsidised on a sliding scale according to income. Childcare in these countries is high quality and maternal employment is also high.

We need to simplify the way we subsidise childcare in Britain. We'd like to see an extension of free nursery education. We must be realistic in these tough times but also remember that it makes economic sense for parents to work, to pay taxes and keep their skills in the labour market.

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Sean Gabb

Childcare is expensive because of state regulation”

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Dr Sean Gabb, director of the Libertarian Alliance

Childcare is expensive because of state regulation.

Childminders must be trained and qualified and registered with Ofsted. They are inspected and must keep extensive records. How they look after children is closely prescribed.

Notoriously, the system does not prevent negligent or abusive childminders. What it does instead is to close the career to anyone who is not highly literate and able to understand and obey an ever-changing mass of of detailed regulations.

Dr Sean Gabb

  • Author of 20 novels and books
  • Director of the Libertarian Alliance

The result is to limit the number of childminders and to drive up prices. The obvious answer is not state subsidy or further regulation. It is to abolish all the existing regulations. As throughout history, let anyone who pleases set up as a childminder. Let parents use their own judgement and common sense in their choice of childminders. Doubtless, voluntary accreditation systems would evolve on the market.

The truth is, however, that the overwhelming majority of potential childminders are not murderers or paedophiles. The overwhelming majority of parents are not careless in choosing who should look after their children.

Expensive childcare is one more instance of a general problem to which the answer is simple: Set the people free to choose for themselves.

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Sharon Hodgson

We're losing expertise from the workforce precisely when we need to increase productivity”

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Sharon Hodgson MP, shadow minister for children and families

Under David Cameron's government, families are facing a triple whammy on childcare; fees are rising much faster than wages, financial support from the government has been slashed, and childcare places are being lost.

All of this is forcing many parents to consider whether working is worth it, meaning we're losing expertise from the workforce precisely when we need to increase productivity to secure a strong economic recovery.

This government have slashed and abolished supply-side subsidies for both early years and school age childcare, so it's no wonder fee rises have accelerated and providers - including hundreds of Sure Start nurseries - have closed down.

Sharon Hodgson

  • Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West since 2010
  • Appointed shadow children and families minister in same year

And while ministers have fallen over themselves to provide a tax cut for millionaires now, there won't be any more help for parents struggling with those increased costs for at least two years.

Even then, the government's proposed scheme won't cover wraparound and holiday childcare for school age children until years later, and won't help the majority of families on the lowest incomes.

If ministers really want to help all parents with this cost of living crisis they need a credible plan to tackle rising childcare fees, rather than continuing to drive them up.

Spokesperson for the Department for Education

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We are changing the law to allow for the creation of childminder agencies”

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Reliable and affordable childcare is vital for parents who want to stay in or return to work. That is why from 2015 we will introduce new tax free childcare which will be worth up to £1,200 per child annually. It will benefit all parents, including those who are self-employed.

We are also changing the law to allow for the creation of childminder agencies which will give parents the option of more home-based care. This will provide cover for leave and increase the amount of flexible childcare.

This month we published "More Affordable Childcare", which sets out our plans for helping working parents access the childcare they need, when they need it.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Reduce childcare costs by actively engaging in parenting rather than 2 parents working for a bigger tv and farming kids out to proxy parents to do the upbringing. I'm sure you could find some 'me' time in there too

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    There is no answer to this problem Some people make a lot of money from people who have children.
    And some people who have children do need state support.
    And people with no children will have to accept that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Where on earth do they get £148.000 from,my husband only brought home £12.000 a year. We had two children to bring up. Are the Government on cloud cuckoo land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Who is surprised? If you haven't figured this out, you shouldn't have children. Come to think of it....why do you...someone else brings them up and it isn't you. Why???? Do you actually feel that having kids is the purpose of your bloody sad is that...not just for you but your kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    what can be done about rising childcare costs?

    simple, dont have children unless you are able to fully support them in your lifestyle choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Attitudes do need to change, I agree. People need to take responsibility and demand freedom.

    Well Dan, someone asked me specifically about liability, and I addressed it. And no, it doesn't. As you well know, we're a long way from a free society, and currently people sue at the drop of a hat in our Nanny state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    The truth is that most benefits are misdirected. I still have no idea why people earning twice the national average can claim benefits and why I with a pension of about half the average pay have to subsidise this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    The solution would be for parents to form their own small scale cooperatives
    within their own locality. Mums & Dads who know & trust each other could operate a voluntary & fee free duty rota system with quality care & time for children. Don't use the phrase "child care", call it an "oasis centre" for example. All it takes is motivation, organisational skills & a willingness to "do it yourself"..

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    "High costs are not merely about childcare providers charging high fees" Childminders don't charge high fees. The UK average is about £4.30 per hour per child. Regulations stipulate (correctly) the adult/child ratios. These are based on safe practice and are long-established. Homebased childminders are well qualified but don't make much money. Cheaper childcare requires government subsidy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    @186 Sally

    I hear you too. . . . .but things won't change until our attitudes do.

    I was one of those 10 kids with one carer, and it was great, but back then my mum wouldn't have dreamed of suing for a cut knee, or a black eye from a bit of rough and tumble. . . . . You can bet your life that people would now

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    @186.Sally the contrarian

    "If someone wants to run a childcare place and have 5, 7, or 10 kids per staff they should be free to. Parents should be free to choose. If the childcare harms anyone, they are liable, same as anyone."

    Does the libertarian utopia always have to end up with people suing the pants off each other?

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Why is childcare so expensive when most nursery workers are struggling to survive on meagre pay?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    There are really only two options: More benefits or fewer children. Unless you believe employers are going to start paying more people a living wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    A thought has just occured to me.

    No one knows exactly its going to cost to bring up a child.
    The numbers are too fluid to put a figure on it that will last more than a year.

    Yet people still say if you cannot afford, you cannot have.
    Here comes the magic number of £148k.
    Thats £9250 a year for 16 years.
    Considering most families have a mortgage and costs of living.

    Only the rich can breed.

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    Comment number 186.

    I hear you. But, if someone is negligent, we have common law remedies for that (tort). We developed these without the need for costly bureaucrats to police us (invade our lives).

    If someone wants to run a childcare place and have 5, 7, or 10 kids per staff they should be free to. Parents should be free to choose. If the childcare harms anyone, they are liable, same as anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.


    Indeed people can find themselves worse off when they made that choice. But then thats a problem we all have to face. Rather than people overstretching their budgets they should perhaps consider how they will get by should the worst happen. Such as if you had to rely on the state what luxuries your going to have to loose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    @182 Sally

    What you say is all well and good. . . . . . But you forget we now live in a 'where theres blame theres a claim' culture. . . . .It's our own greedy fault that all these health and safety, insurance etc has to be in place and paid for now. .. . . . . . .Stop this culture, and then maybe we can make the progress you wish for

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    There seems to be an assumption that anyone who has difficulty affording their children was rash, thoughtless and selfish.

    Because obviously people never lose their jobs, or have serious accidents, or contract serious illnesses, or otherwise have their financial circumstances vastly changed for the worse.

    Maybe they could easily afford their children - when they first chose to have them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    "What should be done about rising childcare costs?"
    Get government, a hindrance, out of the way. Remove blocks to providing care, and allow parents to choose for themselves. Remove: staff to children ratios, costly business licences, and other ridiculous regulations that add to costs and constrict supply to meet the soaring demand.

    Let parents choose for themselves. All more freedom :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    @177 Arma1
    '30 years ago a family could live off one persons earnings'

    Yes, you are right!. . . . . And 100 years ago, you could have sent your 5 year old up a chimney to earn a crust, or sent him/her to the workhouse!

    Time changes things, and we need to 'get a grip' and change our attitudes to go with the times. . . . .


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