I’ve been taking a look through the 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto.
Theresa May dedicates it to “ordinary, working families” who want “to do their best for their children”.
A key part of that commitment can be found on page 72; the pledge to give “thirty hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds for working parents who find it difficult to manage the costs of childcare.”
That promise is meant to be delivered next month; but ITV News, in partnership with the National Day Nurseries Association, has found that 15% of nurseries across England aren’t taking part in the scheme, because they say the hourly rate the government is offering nurseries wouldn’t cover their running costs.
Most of the nurseries (60%) who are taking part say they can only do so if they ask parents to pay for other things like meals,nappies and activities; so in reality the additional hours aren’t “free” at all.
And more than half (52%) of the nurseries who responded said they will be restricting the number of places on offer. That means thousands of children and parents will miss out.
Sue Johnson, the manager of Scamps Nursery, in Benson in Oxfordshire told me: “The government are giving us £4.01 an hour so we’re going to be short £1.99 an hour, multiplied by 38 weeks in a year, multiplied by 30 children.”
Significantly that can be a loss of £50,000-£70,000. It will bankrupt some places.”
Of course, childcare costs are a huge worry for many working parents.
Lots of families, like the one I met in Oxfordshire, spend a quarter of their disposable income on childcare alone. Nurse Holly Coles told me that missing out on these promised free hours means she’s having to think twice about whether they can afford to have another child.
“It means we’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start thinking about when we can start planning savings and when we can start planning another child – can we afford one now?
“But it definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth that you are promised that you are going to be getting funding for 30 hours a week term time and in reality you can’t get access to it.”
The government says successful pilots have been carried out in 12 locations across England – in places like Tower Hamlets, Northumberland and York.
Robert Goodwill MP, the Minister for Children and Families,says that proves that it can be done on the money the government’s providing.
“The evidence has been that nurseries are stepping-up to the mark and the message to parents is: get online make sure you can find a place.
“We put in an additional £300m in recognition of the costs of providing this and we’re confident this can be provided.”
But that’s little consolation for the many working parents I’ve met, who come next month, will be missing out on what the government has promised them.