Monday, 11 May 2009

Child unfriendly budgets and the tribulations of childcare

I've been trying to get my head around a hook for this post for a wee while. This is because there are a couple of issues, vaguely related but still not necessarily connected. Until you think of it from the perspective of a child friendly society.

All my recent month's work campaigning for an investment into ending child poverty through this year's budget amounted to a waste of time. Well, not really. We ran workshops at schools and it was worthwhile in itself. The budget, however, was a shock to the system. Rather than investing 3 billion, the government invested 140,000 into tax credits, that's an additional £20 a year for each family, so not even targetted at the poorest families. How much did they give the banks again? Remind me. It is clear that real people who are poor are not on this governments agenda.

The tax credit system is beyond my ken anyway. I do not understand how exactly it works, or why, because my beloved is a student and although he has an income that looks like a wage, we are not considered a working family and do not qualify for working parents tax credit or the childcare element of it. We seem to have managed to find a loophole, where income isn't the decisive factor but status. And if a student, apparently you're meant to be able to look after your child full time and not require childcare.

Thankfully, my work runs a childcare voucher scheme and I can save a few pounds that way. And yet, while childcare costs are rocketing in Scotland (where income is lower yet child care cost higher than in London!), the upper limit for claiming a tax free allowance through child care vouchers hasn't risen.

Then there's the issue of actually finding childcare. As I had to return to work when Cubling was only 5 months, I opted for a childminder. It was a good decision. Now that Cubling is 2, I would have liked to have seen her go to nursery. We did a lot of research. One nursery had a place available but was too far away, making her day far too long and reducing time spent with her. Other nurseries didn't feel right, or were so pricey that I didn't see that the benefit outweight the additional cost. Above all, none of these nurseries would commit to a specific starting date.

The nursery economy in Glasgow is mixed and rather complicated. There is statutory provision for 3 and 4 year olds of 12.5 hours per week for 38 weeks a year. I.e. useless for working parents. Most nursery schools will only offer this entitlement as 5 morning or 5 afternoon sessions. Wrap around care (i.e. lunch) is rare. However, you can use a private partnership nursery and claim vouchers for these hours. These partnership nurseries are private but approved and adhere to the same standards as the statutory pre school education curriculum. However, staff are young, inexperienced and often on minimum wage. I've heard that often the kids are not taken outdoors, that they get biscuits as snacks and that there are strict rules on staff which indicate that there is a need for such rules. Also if you have two under 5's, you may not get a place for both at the same nursery (and you can just as well stay at home because there's no way your income will pay for anything but nursery fees).

And because of all of this, Glasgow City Council decided to close a whole bunch of nursery schools this year. The rationale being that the move is towards full day centres (good) and that underused nursery schools were to be merged. The issue is that there were no obvious additional places, so that on the whole, this closure programme was a cut rather than an increase in resources (which full day, bigger centres would make you believe). In some cases it made sense, in most, it didn't. The policy is to ensure affordable all day care from 2 year in buggy pushing distance. The reality? I can't get into an affordable nursery in buggy pushing distance, and my childminder is a 3.5 mile drive away.

I'm fortunate that Cubling is with a childminder who knows the system. While I would have preferred her to go to nursery from the age of 2, realistically, I think I'll get the best deal by keeping her in the current environment. She's on the waiting list for the local nursery school where she can start probably in April after she's turned 3. She will be attending for 5 mornings, 2.5-3 hours each, the childminder will take her there, pick her up and care for her the rest of the time. This way, Cubling will get quality nursery education, even if not the amount I would have hoped for. The childminder knew to put her on the waiting list the week after she turned 2 so it seems that I can reasonably rely on this arrangement to work out.

Secretely though, I still hope for a place in the local full day nursery which doubles as a feeder into Cubling's primary school. It would be so much nicer for her to go there and meet her peers who she will go to school with. It's an educational establishment that offers full day care, a mere 10 minutes walk away, in a new and shiny buidling. Cubling has been on the waiting list for well over a year. Somehow I've got a feeling that she may be on the waiting list well past her first school day.

Oh and today's mummy bloggers carnival is on Being a Mummy, check it out for the best in British Mummy blogging!


zooarchaeologist said...

Its all so difficult isn't it! The fees for chilcare here are about £5.50 per hour on average which means you need a very good job to go back to to make it worthwhile.
Im starting to think that its worth getting hold of the EYFS framework and trying to do all the stuff myself...

cartside said...

I know the feeling. Childcare costs are manageable as long as there's just one, but once there's two, it must feel like working for the nursery/childminder fees, travel to work and work clothes. We tend to have daily rates, £32-£40, in general a week costs £160 per child - every single week of the year.



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