The pledge to offer 30 hours of free childcare a week to working parents was music to the ears of many forced to choose between a career they love and being able to pay the bills.
For many women who want to find a way back to work after having a baby the numbers simply don’t add up. In my case if I had to put both my children into nursery five days a week I would be losing hundreds of pounds a month in order to work. That’s before any of my other bills had to be paid.
Working parents can already get 15 hours of free childcare a week once their child turns three. But this just doesn’t go far enough to make work pay for most people.
So I’m sure I’m not the only one excited at the prospect of 30 hours of free childcare from September this year. But how does it add up? How does it work? With my toddler turning three next year and becoming eligible for the funding from April 2018 I have now received the information from my nursery on how they are offering the scheme. What I’ve learned is it’s not quite as simple as receiving an invoice with 30 hours (or three days) subtracted from the final cost every week. Actually it’s not even offered every week.
For those curious as to how it might work for them I will explain how my nursery is offering the scheme. Obviously prices and schemes vary from nursery to nursery so it’s purely an example to give you an idea of what the reality of the government’s free childcare boast is.
- Parents become eligible for 30 hours when both work over 16 hours a week and neither earns more than £100,000 a year. Your eligibility begins at the start of term after your child’s third birthday.
- The nursery calculates this as 1,140 free hours per year.
- Free hours only apply during term time.
- The hours are spread over the year to 24 hours per week over 47.5 weeks
- This is offered as eight hours funded a day (a day session at our nursery is 10 hours) for three days a week.
- The remaining two hours of the day will cost £24.60 which includes meals. This adds up to a cost of £12.30 an hour.
- The normal charge for a day at my nursery is £63, which is £6.30 an hour (so the nursery is charging double what it normally would on the free days).
- Outside the 47.5 weeks charges revert to the normal £63 a day.
So 30 hours free childcare is an utterly inaccurate description of this scheme. With my eldest due to attend three days a week this should be free if this offer were what it appears. Instead it will be £73.80 a week for 47.5 weeks of the year then £189 a week for the rest. Not free then.
It’s not the nursery I blame for this at all. The government has completely underfunded the scheme and nurseries have to claw back the costs somehow or they would go bust.
I’m lucky that our nursery offers the extended 30 hours deal at all, as this is not compulsory and it is thought many nurseries will opt out of the scheme due to funding concerns. In a survey by the Department of Education one fifth of early years childcare providers said they wouldn’t be offering the 30 hours.
Our nursery generally puts its day fees up by £1 every year. So matters are only going to get worse. Luckily I have been able to arrange a flexible work pattern and enlist the help of grandparents so that my two will only need to be in nursery three days a week. This still means that without free childcare my monthly bill would be more than £1,900. Yikes!
Despite my annoyance that the 30 hours is not all it’s cracked up to be I am still glad my nursery bills will be somewhat less painful after April next year. Plus from what I hear it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what university is going to cost!
For more information and to apply for the 30 hours visit Childcare Choices
What do you think of the 30 hours scheme? Do you use the 15 free hours now? Has it helped you go back to work?