There are currently no plans to expand the childcare offering in the Bailiwick after the UK announced major reforms to the amount of free early years care in a bid to boost the workforce.
UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced on Wednesday that all English parents would be entitled to 30 free hours of childcare per week by September 2025, for children aged nine months to five years old, through a £4bn funding boost.
HM Government’s independent forecasters, the OBR, say that the reforms will be one of the greatest economic growth measures in over a decade. It anticipates that more than 100,000 could enter the labour market, measurably increasing gross domestic product by 2028.
It’s being introduced against the backdrop of the biggest decline in household spending power since the Second World War, the OBR added.
Campaigners in the UK have welcomed the change, but there are fears that a funding disparity between very young children and pre-schoolers will see childcare providers struggling to cope both financially and with the influx of additional children.
Currently, free childcare of 30 hours per week is available to children aged three and four in the UK and Jersey.
But as reforms to childcare and family policies are not part of the Government Work Plan – the States’ annual to-do list – there are currently no cash or resource allocations to pursue that work.
Pictured: Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen.
The only thing resembling public childcare in Guernsey is 15 hours of free pre-school education per week for children aged four. But this is considered educational support and not childcare.
“This distinction is important to make,” said Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, President of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture. “The scheme is designed to support children with their development and progression into school."
She added that “at this time, there are no plans to review the scheme".
“From a personal perspective, I am a huge advocate of supporting parents with whatever choice they make that is best for them and their family.
“It is very important that businesses play their part in supporting new parents’ return to work by offering the flexibility needed to manage the juggle of work and childcare.”
Pictured: One- and two-year-olds will be accounted for from 2025 under the UK's major reforms.
But there have been calls in Guernsey for an expanded offering, akin to what the UK has announced.
Deputy Peter Roffey, President of the Committee for Employment & Social Security, said it was “one Tory idea I hope that Guernsey will look to follow” in encouraging more workforce participation.
“30-hours of free childcare from age nine months is certainly light years away from Guernsey's current offer of 15 hours, just for four-year-olds.”
He said while it is unlikely provision will come close to that offered in the mainland, the now discarded two-school model of secondary education made some attempt to close the gap through a longer school day and enrichment activities up to the evening each day.
He said the biggest economic drags within groups currently inactive in the economy are “non-employed or under-employed parents and the wealthy aged over 50”. But he added that the total of those economically inactive is not high compared to other countries.
Deputy Aidan Matthews also welcomed the UK reforms which will be available to all parents. “Childcare costs in Guernsey are sky high, no wonder people struggle. The UK budget announcement is the right direction,” he said.
Deputy Matthews would prefer a universal offer for parents regardless of income: “It's best to let the tax system do its job properly and claw back funds from the better off. Means testing is expensive and bureaucratic, and inevitably causes more problems than it solves, especially around the margins where free services start to cut off.
“Means testing is almost always a misguided approach, necessitated only if the tax system fails to capture sufficient revenue from the well-off in the first place. If you're paying more tax anyway, an inefficient means testing process to ration service provision is superfluous.”
Pictured: The Bailiwick is seen to lag behind other jurisdictions in parental policies.
PwC Channel Islands’ Women in Work Index for 2023 showed that improving female labour participation could increase GDP, but barriers to achieving that include the cost of childcare and inflexible employers.
It said these were “disincentivising women in particular from working full-time or working at all".
However, the report identified low levels of female unemployment in the Channel Islands but found a pay gap of 16% in Guernsey.
Closing this pay gap through higher participation and increased wages could boost female earnings by 18% or £159m.
"When childcare costs and parental leave benefits are compared with the leading territories, Jersey is behind the curve in terms of support for women and parents, but Guernsey is significantly far behind,” the report said.
And comparatively, Guernsey has amongst the worst parental policies of other high- and middle-income jurisdictions listed by the OECD.
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