Reviewed - 30 hours free childcare

I have always had an issue with the government's idea of 15 or 30 hours of free childcare, for two very simple reasons: it’s not free and it’s not actually 15 hours if you work more than 38 weeks of the year.

Let’s look at the details shall we? All three to four year olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. Parents of three and four year olds will need to meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare:

  • They earn or expect to earn the equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum or Living Wage over the coming three months - meaning you have to reapply every three months.
  • This applies whether you are in paid employment, self-employed or on a zero hours contract. 
  • The parent (and their partner where applicable) should be seeking the free childcare to enable them to work. 
  • Where one or both parents are on maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave, or if they are on statutory sick leave.

On the face of it, all of the above seems fair enough as it supports parents to go to work, at least part time. The problem is that it is easier said than done. 

Firstly, nurseries are not cheap to run and the hourly rate does not represent the reality. In the report Hello Mums published in 2016 [] we found that the average hourly rate in nurseries in London is £6.80 per hour whilst the financial support by the government for the allocated 15 hours childcare is rated at £4.03 per hour. This means that £2.77 per hour will still have to be paid by the parent as nurseries cannot afford to cover these costs.

The problem is not just twofold either. This is yet another factor impacting nurseries, and so many councils are concerned that the 30 “free” hours will reduce financial sustainability within the nursery sector. Nurseries won’t be able to offer funded hours if they cannot balance their books - it is as simple as that.

Parents who work enough hours will be entitled to the 30 “free” hours, but the cost of childcare will still make a considerable dent in their pockets each month. Last year the average fee (after the “free” hours had been deducted) for a part time nursery place was £412 per month, whilst a full-time place was £1148 per month. 

The idea is a good one, but in practice I am not so sure that it’s a realistic one. And it’s incredibly challenging to manage. There has to be an element of support from the government, but the support has to work for both the parents and the childcare providers. Otherwise the nurseries will struggle to survive, because these are their options: they either offer the places under various restrictions, or they do not and face the problem of having enough full-paying places filled. 

Now I know for a fact that I am not the first parent to ask this, but why isn’t free childcare actually free after all? Parents with more than one child under the age of five will most likely still require one of them to stay at home with the children. In most cases, the breadwinner is still unlikely to earn enough of an income to cover the cost of putting more than one child into a childcare environment, regardless of whether it’s part-time or full-time childcare. Therefore the financial motivation is not significant enough. On the other hand, it can undermine nurseries as it will only increase their filled places if it is financially feasible for them.


#childcare #30hoursfreechildcare #nursery #ofsted