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Opinion: 'Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's plan to get parents back to work by cutting nursery staff requirements will fail'

Rules on the ratio of staff to children in nurseries could reportedly be relaxed as part of government childcare reforms.

Despite a lack of evidence to suggest the policy will cut crippling fees - and huge opposition from parents concerned about how it will alter quality of care - there are fears staffing ratios might feature in the budget as an under-pressure Chancellor tries to tempt parents back to work, columnist Lauren Abbott writes.

A plan to cut the ratio of staff to children could be revealed in tomorrow's budget Stock picture: RADAR/PA
A plan to cut the ratio of staff to children could be revealed in tomorrow's budget Stock picture: RADAR/PA

As a parent who sent her children to nursery, I can hand on heart say the one thing that would have put me off returning to work is the thought of under-pressure, underpaid, overworked nursery staff having more children to care for alongside my own.

The campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed says there is no evidence to suggest reducing ratios will enable nurseries to cut costs as businesses are already crippled with massive overheads, rising bills and properties in need of attention all made worse by the state funding given to meet free childcare entitlement not covering the true costs of caring for each child.

Putting more pressure on staff and loosening ratios, it insists, will not save parents money while campaigns and petitions launched, including those by Netmums and Mumsnet suggest thousands upon thousands of parents are against the concept.

Yet again it feels like the government is missing the point entirely.

Yes, parents want affordable childcare. Mothers (mainly) want to be able to go back to work and earn more than they need to pay in fees, which can now number £15,000 a year for just one child.

'It's almost like those with the luxury of nannies have little concept of the difficulties faced by everyone else...'

But parents considering re-entering the workplace and leaving their children for potentially eight to 10 hours a day are also seeking good quality childcare. Excellent in fact.

They want childcare that will reflect the time, care, love and attention their babies have had at home. Something that might lessen the sleepless nights, angst and guilt all mothers put themselves through prior to handing them over.

This isn't just about the physical capacity a nursery worker has to keep their eyes across two, four, or eight children. It's about how much meaningful input they can possibly have with each child, during long days, the more you tuck under their wings.

Leaving your children to go back to work, and entrusting them with someone else, is stressful enough and I cannot see how a scenario in which staff have to spread ears, eyes and arms across more babies, toddlers or preschoolers is the carrot the government risks thinking it is.

Parents don't want corners cut. They want a childcare system reflective of those we hear about in countries like Germany, Sweden and Portugal where government subsidies ensure affordable, reliable and high-quality provision goes right through until children leave primary school. They need nursery workers to be paid proper wages to reflect their valuable and important role.

We're also struggling to recruit teachers, and doctor retention isn't great either so why not go the whole hog and give one teacher a few more classes or one doctor a few hundred more patients. Much more efficient than perhaps... paying a fair and proper wage?

Parents need something bold and innovative - not the lazy option of diluting care in the vain hope it'll become cheaper. It's almost like those who perhaps have the luxury of affording nannies or similar, have little concept of the difficulties faced by everyone else.

There must be ways to reduce childcare costs for parents without compromising quality or maybe even safety. Where are those ideas?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below...

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