As the Tories pledge more free childcare, is this the answer to excessively high costs?

David Cameron plans to increase free childcare for working parents (Source: Getty)

Sam Gyimah MP, minister for childcare and early years, says Yes

Childcare is important because it significantly impacts family finances and people’s ability to work, and make work pay. It’s also important for the child, because high-quality early education is key to having the best start in life. The government has a role in effectively delivering all three elements of this challenge.

That’s why I’m proud to be the childcare minister in a government that is committed to solving these problems. Thanks to the government, all three and four year-olds whose parents work will become eligible for 30 hours of free childcare per week. That is a triple win for the 600,000 working families who will be eligible.

Parents can return to the workplace and hold on to more of their hard-earned money, while their children also benefit. And we are also helping working families via tax-free childcare, which will put thousands of pounds in their back pocket. We are removing barriers, so those parents who do want to work can.

Adam Memon, head of economic research at the Centre for Policy Studies, says No

Almost uniquely among developed nations, the UK suffers from both high private childcare costs for families and high public costs – the burden of which falls on taxpayers. While there is a role for targeted state expenditure, especially for children from the poorest backgrounds, the government should look at broader reform of the sector if it is really going to tackle the triple challenge of affordability, access and quality.

The childcare sector suffers from an elevated cost base, but has poorly paid staff and so does not attract as many higher qualified staff as other sectors. At the same time, barely 30 per cent of providers make a profit or are in surplus. This is at least in part because of the excessively burdensome regulatory framework in areas such as staff-to-child ratios.

Regulatory reform, making it easier to deliver childcare in schools, and simplifying the existing funding streams are therefore necessary to raise performance and cut costs.

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