No Such Thing as a FREE Lunch!

Last week was a strange week for me.  My Cockapoo, Binky, gave birth to five gorgeous puppies under the watchful eye of my family.  Seeing our beloved pet give birth – wow!  How obsessed my children and I are with these beautiful little pups that now live in our house.  I could talk about my pups all day, given the chance, but if that wasn’t enough for one week I also found myself preparing for an interview for channel 5 news.  I was going to be on TV talking about the 30 hour scheme, how we were rolling it out and why we are concerned.  Eeeek!  Exciting and nerve racking.  I also had two other opportunities to be interviewed about the 30 hour scheme and its pitfalls in a matter of days.   I decided, like any good dog mummy, that Binky’s babies came first and stuck with just channel 5.  I nearly had my 15 minutes of fame but at the last minute the editor changed location and my TV stardom aspirations faded.  As parents of nursery aged children you can’t have missed the surge of media coverage, it’s has been everywhere!  Yes, September is the official roll out of the 30 hour scheme in which the government have committed to doubling the amount of free childcare from 15 to 30 hours a week for working parents of all eligible 3 and 4 year olds.  The noble aim is that the 30 hours extended entitlement will have a real impact on the lives of families by supporting working parents with the cost of their childcare and encouraging others back to work or to work more hours.  It all seems very straight forward but the reality is it is anything but!

What, you may ask, was I going to tell Channel 5?  How are we rolling out the scheme and what are my concerns?  As parents of Hungry Caterpillars you already know how we are rolling out the scheme and hopefully for most of you the benefits far out weight any negatives.  I was determined to offer the scheme despite its flaws, I wanted to help save our families £5000 on their childcare cost.  Unfortunately the truth is that £5000 does not cover the cost of the 1140 hours that eligible families are entitled to each year.   For the majority of parents, country wide, it’s a case of ‘subsidised childcare’ not free childcare’ due to the chronic government underfunding of the scheme.

I completely understand parent’s frustration – Why are nurseries not simply giving families FREE Childcare??  The fact is we can’t afford to.  It’s simple maths!  On average we subsidies each funded hour (15 or 30hrs) £1.05 per hour.  We are not prepared to cut corners to reduce costs and I’m sure most parents would not want us too.  We are not alone in the nursery sector in realising that in the long term the funding rate is not sustainable.  The very scheme that is supposed to give you free childcare could in fact end up giving no childcare.  According to a sector survey carried out by the Pre School Learning Alliance, as many as 38% of nurseries do not believe their business will be sustainable in 12 months’ time as a result of 30 hours.   What a shame if rather than providing more affordable childcare the scheme actually does the opposite.  No winners if nurseries are forced to close and childcare becomes scares, driving prices up further! There is no such thing as a FREE lunch nor FREE CHILDCARE!  On a positive note, cute puppies do exist and they are living at my house!  

Olivia Foley, Founder and Director of Hungry Caterpillar Day Nurseries Ltd.

Article from Hungry Caterpillar Day Nursery – Caterpillar CHAT Magazine, Issue 3

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