Child-care costs are high because of a shortage of facilities. The government plans to make the workers have tougher qualifications. But that’ll only make the shortage worse. The answer is to relax standards, not tighten them.
The cost of day-care for children – whether nurseries, child-minders, carers or nannies - is important because it discourages parents from working, encouraging them to accept benefits rather than seek work and boost the economy. The subject thus matters at the individual, the corporate and the national level.
But it is madness if a worker has to pay more for child-care than their own net earnings – or more than the difference between benefits and pay. The solution is not to subsidise care costs but to cut them to a point where workers can afford it - from their own pay.
However, demanding that nursery workers have GCSE grade C in maths and English and requiring additional training will only restrict the supply further and make the service even more unaffordable, persuading more parents to stay at home.
The correct response is to lower standards and let the customers decide what level of care they want to pay for.
The middle-aged woman in the next street or the other side of the village may not have the qualifications or be Ofsted approved, but as a mother herself she may be perfectly competent to look after somebody else’s kids at her home while their parents work. She’ll do it for pin money; the parents can afford to take jobs that don’t pay a fortune.
There is an army of such childminders with no qualification other than experience ready to do a job from which they are currently excluded by government rules that are getting tougher. Why argue if some days they look after three babies rather than the nanny state’s new limit of two?
Of course things will go wrong. There’ll be an accident for which the helper doesn’t have a first-aid certificate; they won’t teach their under-5s trigonometry. The child-minder might even be married to a child-molester. But we live in an imperfect world: we take the bus rather than a taxi because of the cost; we eat at the café not the Ritz; we buy a second-hand car.
If parents want a Rolls-Royce day-care service with all the certificates, that’s there choice. But they must have the wages to pay for it, not rely on a £1,000 voucher from the state. If ever there was a market for deregulation, this surely is it. Let parents and carers solve it themselves, but cut care costs to a level that mothers and fathers can afford – not raise them to a level the state cannot.