Parents know best

Think tank: Centre for Social Justice

Author(s): Gavin Rice

October 29, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Centre for Social Justice looks at giving families a choice in childcare.

The Government spends nearly £4 billion per year subsidising childcare for families in various forms. Britain’s childcare support offer is notoriously complex and confusing for parents, with evidence of mixed levels of awareness of entitlements and deficits in take-up. For all this, UK families still face some of the highest up-front costs in the OECD, spending on average 22 per cent of their income (or 51 per cent of a single person’s income) on childcare – double the average for Western economies. But what is the purpose of Government childcare policy? And what do families actually want from it? New polling for the CSJ by Public First shows that policymakers are out of step with both parents and the general public. 78 per cent of parents with children under 5 would like to spend more time with their children, but feel they cannot afford to. A striking 81 per cent said they felt it was more important to help parents to stay at home for longer with a new baby rather than facilitating a rapid return to work. A majority of UK families use informal care – such as grandparents and relatives – rather than formal childcare settings. Yet government funding is only available for paying Ofsted-registered provider. In this report we make clear the public support for the idea of a “Family Credit”, rolling together existing childcare budgets, to be spent as parents wish – whether they want to use a nursery, a childminder, extended family, or use the money to help provide care themselves. Those surveyed supported this over more formal childcare support by 61 per cent to 33 per cent. Choice should be at the centre of our childcare policy. We know that parents know best – and policymakers should listen to them.