The availability of childcare is essential, now more than ever, given that countries with higher female employment tend to have higher economic growth. So the government was right to announce in the Autumn Statement that they would extend the free entitlement—15 hours’ free childcare—to the most deprived 40 per cent of 2 year olds. But the majority of childminders have been unable to deliver the free entitlement to date.
We often hear about the astronomical cost of childcare. But the inflexibility of childcare provision is also a problem for some parents. Picking children up from nursery at the right time can be very difficult to fit around work commitments. Overtime, night shifts and weekend work are much more common here compared to the rest of Europe—but the overwhelming majority of nurseries are not open at these times.
Childminders—home-based carers—can help. They tend to work longer hours during the week: 44 hours compared to 33 hours for nursery workers. And they’re often more conveniently located than any other childcare setting, within “pram-pushing” distance.
But childminders are increasingly scarce now: the workforce has shrunk by 40% since the 1990s, largely because parents started to choose day-care centres over childminders at that time.