registration payments for new childcare workers will do little to address a crisis in the sector that has seen existing professionals leave en masse, experts say, as the number of childcare workers in England hits its lowest level in a decade.
There were 28,500 registered child carers as of December 2022, according to Ofsted data, the lowest number since 2012 and down 24% from the more than 37,600 at the end of 2019.
Declining income amid a cost-of-living crisis, rising stress levels and the increasingly complex needs of families are causing the exodus, along with a shortage of new childcare providers joining the labor force to replace those who leave.
Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, this week announced a £4bn expansion of government-funded childcare provision to provide an extra 30 hours a week in term time for children aged nine months to two years. This included piloting incentive payments of £600 for new childminders, rising to £1,200 for those who joined through an agency.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, welcomed the government’s acknowledgment of the decline in childcare, but criticized the “paltry enrollment payments”. as “useless”.
Childcare workers who contacted The Guardian also spoke of the prohibitively high cost of the facility, suggesting that it was deterring others from joining their ranks.
“Instead of putting all their energy into attracting new childminders to the sector, ministers would do well to prioritize retaining the thousands of existing professionals we know are leaving en masse,” Leitch said.
Megan Jarvie, director of Coram Family and Childcare, said that while it was helpful to see recognition of the need for investment to expand the sector, “yesterday’s proposals will not help experienced childminders to stay.”
Childcare providers make up just 11% of all childcare slots, according to Department of Education data, but they are essential for parents who need flexibility and those who need comprehensive after-school care.
The number of registered childminders has been declining year on year, but this has accelerated, with a 12% annual drop in 2021 and 2022.
Overall, child care providers are down 15% in three years, with nearly 11,500 fewer providers registering by the end of 2022.
However, the number of registered places for children under the age of seven has increased marginally by 1%, from 1.5 million in 2019 to 1.6 in 2022, Department of Education data shows. The increase has come mainly from private and voluntary providers.
The main reason for the decline in registered childcare providers is that fewer are joining the sector than are leaving, with just 1,500 new registrations in the year ending 31 August 2022, the lowest number of annual additions till the date.
Yok, 38, a nanny and mother of three from Welling, south-east London, will stop operating in two years, once her youngest son goes to school.
“I started taking care of children in 2017 because I needed to work and take care of my son, it was the best option to do both. There were a lot of courses, safeguarding and first aid. [training] and get my home insured, a phone interview. After a five hour Ofsted inspection of my house, I had to do another interview. It was stressful, but I was delighted when they accepted me,” she said.
“Is it’s lovely to watch the children in her care grow but I struggle with late payments, her home doesn’t feel like home due to protocols, Ofsted audits, endless paperwork and chores. Then there are the late pickups. The funding portal you have to use to get paid is crazy. Especially my first year was so overwhelming.”
Like Yok, many childminders took the job because they couldn’t afford to care for their own children and left when their last child started school, or when they planned to. “When I had my firstborn, I was a manager in a restaurant; if I had put him in nursery I would have been left with a weekly profit of just £20,” he said. “If childcare had been cheaper, I definitely would have gone back to work.”
Child carers gave various reasons for having or wanting to leave, but these generally included low pay, increased workload, long administrative hours, Ofsted inspections, underfunding of the government’s ‘free’ childcare offer and rising costs, especially for food and energy.
Tina, 40, a West Sussex nanny, qualified less than three years ago but is now closing as rising costs have made childcare financially unviable. “I love my job, but unfortunately government funds just don’t cover the rising costs of all my expenses,” she said.
Daycare centers in her area that had offered 15 or 30 hours of funded child care, she said, are now no longer doing so to limit losses caused by underfunding.
Daycares tend to be cheaper than private and non-profit daycares, although the gap has widened in recent years. According to the data of the DfE.
Sylvia Wood, 59, a veteran nanny from Manchester, is one of many who reported high demand for her services. Child sitters are often cheaper than daycare centers, even though daycare centers may charge parents extra fees for consumables and activities to make up for the government funding shortfall.
“I turn people away on a weekly basis. I charge £50 a day, some nurseries here charge over £70,” she said.
An Ofsted spokesperson said that “while requirements for training and other regulations are set by the government, we are working hard to address some of the misconceptions we hear about the inspection burden, and we are also reviewing our registration process to make it is more agile and quicker to complete”.