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Britain moves closer to universal childcare with £204 million funding for nurseries. Happiest Baby

Nurseries in Britain get a much-needed boost as the UK government announced £204 million in funding for expansion in childcare spaces last week.

The £204 million funding is part of the government's plan to make the largest childcare investment of all time.

According to a survey done by Ofsted in 2022, there are 65,600 nurseries in the UK as of August 2022. This is 5,400 less than what it was in August 2021.

The survey highlighted critical issues plaguing childcare facilities in the UK as it was found that there is a dearth of childcare providers, not the places. The decline in childcare places was a meagre two per cent but the decline in childcare providers was eight per cent. As of August 2022, 1.28 million childcare places were offered by childcare providers on the Early Years Register.

Most people (96%) consider these childcare providers good. However, there might be a dearth of childminders in these childcare places as fewer people join the system than leave. As of 2021, 5,600 childminders have left while only 1,500 joined in the last decade.

This upholds the necessity of such government funding to boost the system.

Making childcare accessible and affordable

The UK government approved this plan of supporting childcare facilities in its Spring Budget where it was underlined that this would make childcare more accessible. The plan will not only help parents to return to work post-pandemic but will also aid in the economic growth of the country.

The government has distributed the funding in a way that makes it available across the country with every region getting a share. With this funding, childcare providers can reduce pressure points in the system like lack of staff, training the staff and paying utility bills.

1. Funding rates

The resultant effect of this is the overall increase in the funding rates paid per child.

  • Come this September, the funding rates will rise to £5.62 for three to four-year-old children from the existing £5.29.
  • For two-year-old children, the rates will touch £7.95, a steep increase from £6.00.

This increase in funding rates is a crucial step in supporting the early years sector to deliver the biggest childcare investment seen so far in the country.

2. Free childcare hours

  • Working parents with two-year-olds are eligible for 15 free hours of free childcare every week from April 2024.
  • Parents will get 15 free hours of free childcare from September next year, from the time their kids are nine months old till they start going to school.
  • This will increase to 30 free hours of free childcare from September 2025.
  • Not just nurseries, primary schools will get government support in the coming days as the government has announced a separate free childcare access plan in their local areas from 8 am to 6 pm.

Reducing barriers in work for parents

Speaking about the new funding, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, acknowledged the childcare burden of parents and how it creates barriers in work. He assured the hourly funding rates have been increased to make sure that the system delivers. This includes an increase in the rates for two-year-olds by a third.

The UK Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan said this will be transformational for working families as it makes childcare affordable and accessible for parents.

The plan to roll out the funding

The government has selected 16 local authorities who will help to chalk out this universal childcare plan. From Barnsley to Wiltshire, the plan covers an extensive area and is likely to roll out as early as next summer. By January 2024, all the local authorities will be getting £289 million in funding with an aim to make the wraparound care expansion visible from 2024.

The initial £200 million funding will set the stage for realising the free childcare expansion that has been scheduled for next year. Subsequent increases in funding would be made available to the local authorities in the coming years, with £288 million already demarcated in the 2024-25 Spring Budget. Keeping in mind the ever-increasing childcare facilities in the country, the education department will soon launch a consultation for fair allocation of funds in 2024-25.

The government has also announced an additional £12 million in funding this financial year for the local authorities to roll out this new offer.

All these reform plans are drawn to make the UK childcare system the best in the world.