Frustrations of working parents in Wales

On International Women’s Day Wendy Sadler let’s off steam about childcare in the Welsh capital

A widely reported study this week has shown that childcare costs the average family as much as their mortgage. As a result many women (and I’m sure some men too) are giving up work to save themselves money. “Ah well,” the reporters say, “at least the government are funding free child care for three to four year olds”. Well, not really. Not if you are a normal working parent. Not if you live in Cardiff anyway.

Yes, in theory you get 15 hours of government funded nursery care when your child turns three, but only if you apply for them to attend five days a week for three hours each day at one of the specified government nursery school sites.

So let me spell that out. If you work part-time you might work something like three (long) days a week. If I want to take advantage of this ‘free’ space I am faced with the challenge of having to pick up my child in the middle of a working day from one childcare provider and then move them to another nursery in order to benefit.

Now unless you’re extremely lucky and have a paid nursery place that is near enough to a government nursery for you to go and pick your child up, or a member of your family who can do it for you (in which case you probably wouldn’t be paying for a nursery space at all) this doesn’t help. Not only that, it means that on the two precious days you get to spend at home, your child now has to attend nursery school on both those days. This also means that if the child has a regular day with a grandparent (who doesn’t live locally) they can no longer help with looking after them as they can’t necessarily get them to and from the nursery you have a space in.

How many people have a job that allows them to leave work at midday and spend around an hour relocating a three-year-old? Especially when you’re struggling to fit your working week into three days. The idea of a lunch ‘hour’ is highly rare and for someone who runs their own business, or is self-employed (as we know many women are), every hour lost is earning potential lost. And that’s all assuming you have a car at your disposal because doing it on public transport would be virtually impossible.

Infuriating as this is, it gets worse. In England, unlike Wales, the government funding of 15 hours a week can be used against the cost of your normal weekly bill at your chosen nursery without any moving and upsetting of children in the middle of the day. This could basically reduce part-time child-care costs from about £450 a month to £150 a month. That could go a long way towards your mortgage or electricity bill.

Let’s just say that again. Parents working part-time in England could be £300 a month better off than those in an identical situation in Cardiff. Good encouragement to keep workers in Wales? I think not.

As far as my limited economics knowledge goes, I can’t see how offering this flexibility would actually cost the government anything extra. When I inquired about the funding situation for Cardiff at my nursery they told me they have asked and asked for help with this, but the government say they refuse to allow the flexible system to come into place in Cardiff because “so many government funded nursery places are made available and not taken up”. Well, I wonder why that is? Perhaps the system isn’t suiting the people it is meant to be helping? Just a thought.

They have also argued that this isn’t a policy intended to help people access free child care but to enhance the learning offered to three and four year olds. I’ve seen the huge amounts of administration and paperwork my nursery has to do to prove it is teaching the foundation phase to all 3+ year olds, and they are inspected regularly. There is no way that they aren’t teaching the same things. If they didn’t they wouldn’t get their license to operate in Wales. And let’s be honest, they’re only three, so how useful is an early prescriptive curriculum anyway?

Even more unbelievable, if you move a few miles away to Rhondda Cynon Taf, you can currently get full-time nursery school places for three-year olds. Almost worth the extra commute to Cardiff – maybe we should all just move out of the capital…

So, in a week that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published their report Who Runs Wales? showing how Wales is going backwards in terms of representation of women on boards and in senior positions, could the government please consider for a moment one fairly simple move that could make a massive difference to working parents – women and men – that may just help encourage them to stick with a career rather than chuck it in to save money?

An IWA Trustee Wendy Sadler is Director of Science Made Simple, a company that aims to engage a wider public with science and engineering, and a spin-out from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University.

9 thoughts on “Frustrations of working parents in Wales

  1. If you think you’ve got probelms – try getting English medium childcare in Gwynedd!

    Don’t see anything about that from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission…

  2. Wendy you make some excellent points here and it is high time that childcare was put in its proper economic context and given the same priority as education. There is an urgent need for sensible national policy on a comprehensive childcare system which encompasses care, play and education. Sadly its probably not worth your while relocating to RCT as from September it seems that week will be no better off than Cardiff with only 15 hours being provided and we will have the same challenges that you describe.

  3. In Wales we need to control our children’s education, ensure they prefer to use Welsh so let’s catch them early. We can’t yet really control all private nurseries but it will happen so let’s keep to the path we are going down.

  4. Teaching young children Welsh is one thing Barry but how do you “Ensure that they prefer to use Welsh”? Doesn’t “prefer” predicate choice? You know; free will.

    I once wrote to an authority on language immersion schooling and said that compulsory immersion schools in Wales were failing. She wrote back and said that their was no such thing as “compulsory immersion”…..that was “submersion” schooling.

    She’d never been to Gwynedd I suppose.

  5. I sympathize with Dr Sadler. The Welsh government shows a distinct leaning towards the ‘statist, solution to all problems and a suspicion of private provision, however well regulated and licensed. It is something to do with the power of the public sector unions in funding Welsh politicians, I expect. It would not be so bad if the public entities were properly planned and responsive to public need. Unfortunately that is not generally true either. When public sector workers, like the teachers, refuse all measurement of their performance because they do not want to be accountable it is unlikely that performance will improve. There are two possible ways forward: allow other providers to compete on equal and regulated terms (the obvious solution for childcare) or start insisting on KPIs and fearlessly holding public-sector executives to account for outcomes. Our politicians are biased against the former and have been too windy to do the latter.

  6. When my daughter was in nursery year she also attended a private nursery which provided a wraparound service picking children up from school and caring for them the rest of the day. But demand was so high that they could charge for a full day. So she benefitted from the education but it didn’t help with my chilcare costs at all.

  7. It’s not just Cardiff area that suffers this! I’m in Gwynedd and am having to pay ridiculous amounts for my 3 yr old twin girls to attend pre-school (which only offers hours 9-1 at the most) being told we are only entitled to any free hours if I send them to the local primary school which only offers hours 9-11! It’s difficult enough to find a boss who will allow me to work only between 9-1 but impossible for anyone to work if their children are only in school 2 hours! It’s ridiculous and it makes me want to quit my job full stop as I’d probably be better off!!

  8. My 3 year old daughter and I moved to Gwynedd but my partner and in-laws remained in Wrexham this Year continuing shared care. I requested that my daughter be able to continue to attend her original school nursery part time and her new school nursery part-time. The Gwynedd school was happy with this arrangement ( I was keen for her and me to start making friends and to learn Welsh) but the Wrexham school could not allow it (Council Rules?). I So we only benefit from 6 hours a week (Mon-Wed 12:50-2:50pm) as part of her 3 full days at paid nursery. In England I understand we could have continued at both.

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