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Friday, 21 February, 2003, 16:11 GMT
Women 'constrained' by lack of childcare
Nursery scene
Childcare is not easy to come by

Tell any mother who is either working or wants to get back into paid work after having a child that it is difficult finding affordable childcare, and you are already preaching to the converted.

Shortages of childcare
Eight day nursery places for each 100 children under the age of five
Seven childminder places for each 100 children under the age of eight
Six out-of-school club places for each 100 children aged five to seven

Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies

It is just one of those same old tunes, which never seems to change.

According to a new report published on Monday, there are only eight day nursery places for each 100 children under the age of five.

There are also seven child-minder places for each 100 children under the age of eight and six out-of-school club places for each 100 children aged five to seven.

In contrast, about one-quarter of nonworking mothers say that they would like to have a regular paid job, but are prevented from seeking work by having to look after children.

Another one in 10 women who are working part-time say that they would work longer hours if there was some form of suitable childcare available.

Variety of provision

The survey, which is from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, uses data for all types of childcare apart from nannies and au pairs.

It paints a dismal picture of provision and how it varies dramatically around the country.

No. of places (% change 1995-1999)
Day nursery: +57%
Play group: unchanged
Child-minder: -9%
Out-of-school clubs: +162%
Holiday schemes: +124%

Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies

The existing access to good education around the country seems to be becoming a "lottery", which effectively starts at birth.

In some cases, this turns non-Christians into church goers, to gain entry to good church-run schools.

Some areas are also seeing artificially high house prices, where better schools are available.

Moving to the right area to get to the right schools might improve your child's GCSE or A-level chances, but the postcode lottery is just the same for pre-school provision.

For example, there are 200 times more holiday scheme places in the local authority with the most schemes than there are in the worst.

With out-of-school clubs, the difference is 89.

In general, it is tough luck if you live in London or in one of the northern metropolitan cities.

Anyone listening?

Over the last few years out-of-school clubs and holiday schemes have been promoted as one solution to childcare shortages.

The report says, however, that only 4% of school children of working mothers under the age of 12 are actually using these types of schemes.

In contrast, child-minding, which is the most popular type of formal childcare is in decline, with the numbers of child-minders falling between 1995 and 1999.

In 1995, for example, there were 737 child-minders per 10,000 children.

While there was an increase in 1998 to 755, by the next year, there were less child-minders than in 1999, with only 680 places per 10,000 children.

Mind the gap

One measure introduced by the government to help low-income families with childcare costs is the Working Families Tax Credit.

Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) has had relatively "limited effects" on employment, according to the report.

It says that the credit has led to some childcare providers pushing up their prices.

This finding matches a recent report from the Daycare Trust, a charity which campaigns for better childcare provision.

If true, this effectively undermines the government's whole policy: families lose out because a portion of the tax credit is spent on paying for higher costs, while taxpayers subsidise childcare providers.

The report concludes that the WFTC has raised the employment rate for single mothers by 3%, but has had virtually no impact on the employment rate for mothers with partners, because of the partners' increased WFTC benefit payment when the mother is not working.

In fact, 0.4% are predicted to move out of paid employment and 0.3% are expected to reduce their working hours from full-time to part-time, principally due to their partner's increased WFTC entitlement.

Bringing up baby: Counting the cost of childcare

Counting the cost of childcare

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