Should the state provide free childcare for non-working parents?
Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow and former minister for education, says YES.
Only 54 per cent of children eligible for free school meals reach a good level of development by age five. When it comes to literacy, a child who has been in high-quality childcare for two to three years before school starts almost eight months ahead of a child who hasn’t been in childcare.
By excluding non-working parents (which includes foster parents) from accessing 30 hours of free childcare, we are disadvantaging the most disadvantaged. A child’s parents’ employment status is no fault of their own, yet it will be their development that suffers for it.
Dropping the eligibility cap for wealthier parents to claim tax-free childcare from £100,000 to £65,000 would free up £150m, which could pay for an extension of 30 hours free childcare to foster carers.
Furthermore, we could also reduce the similarly generous earnings cap for the 30 hours of free childcare that is available for three and four year olds. This could then be channelled to non-working parents, whose children need it more.
Nerissa Chesterfield, communications officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.
Giving free handouts might be a feel-good policy, but practically it will do nothing to address what is driving childcare costs up in the UK.
Current subsidies in place for childcare for 15 to 30 hours a week benefit some, but families who need care for more than 30 hours a week lose out. These funds contribute to inflated market prices, making the cost of childcare for the 31st hour and onwards dramatically more expensive.
So far, throwing money at the problem has failed to achieve any of the government’s objectives: childcare is not affordable (we have some of the highest costs in the OECD), and there is no evidence to suggest that regulations such as enforcing low staff-child ratios improve quality or safety – they have only escalated costs further.
Subsidising childcare for non-working parents as well as working ones will not fix the problem. It will make it worse.
Unshackling carers from onerous regulations and targeting public funds more directly to those most in need through the tax-credit system is the medicine the market needs to reduce costs, both for families and for British taxpayers.