It seems like the parents of the UK have been screaming for more support in helping Mums (and Dads) get back to work and lessen the crippling costs of childcare for a long time; something I felt had a huge impact in my decision to not return to work after being made redundant.
And then, there it was; 30 hours free childcare for three to four year olds from September. The answer to all our problems.
Or is it?
It seems like no sooner one childcare set up has been settled-in, another potential change arises, and as a parent of a two year old, we now need to decide whether the 30 hours childcare is something which can benefit us as a family.
Obviously each and every family unit is completely different, and if you are already working full time or part time and forking out for more than 15 hours of childcare, this may be fantastic news for you.
However there are so many elements to consider…
Are you eligible?
You can read more about eligibility on the government site here, but in a nutshell here are some key points to know.
- Both parents should be in employment; either paid, self employed or zero hours contract.
- You should be earning (or expecting to earn) the equivalent of 16 hours per week at the minimum wage (£120/week).
- Neither parent should be earning more than £100K per year.
- One parent may be on maternity, parental, adoption, or sick leave and still qualify.
- A ‘start up’ grace period of 1 year for a new business is eligible without the need to demonstrate income
As a family, this means that we could, from January, railroad our plans to increase our daughter’s current two mornings at pre-school to five mornings, and utilise the full thirty hour allowance.
Is it available to you?
Well, we could if her pre-school was participating. However, as it’s only open fifteen hours a week, it would have to re-structure it’s entire business structure. The scheme is not compulsory for all childcare providers, and as such you’d have to check where is offering it in your nursery and what is available in your area.
We have however also put her name on the list at the primary school pre-school, where her sister attends – to perhaps to do a year there prior to starting in reception (another ongoing debate in our heads). There has been an indication that the current set up of five morning or five afternoon three hour sessions, is being considered for the thirty hours scheme. This means parents can opt for five mornings, five afternoons, or five full days (9-3). Note with this particular pre-school there is no pick and mix option for days or times.
Do the hours fit around your role?
Now whilst I appreciate there are some jobs that fit between 9am and 3pm, I know that my in previous career, these hours just wouldn’t have fitted in with the business need or structure. Part time generally meant three days in, two days off, and the ability to drop off and pick up around school run time was always going to be tricky.
This is where alternatives and gap fillers would need to be considered if I did perhaps return to work; helpful and available relatives or friends, flexible working arrangements or an additional childcare provider for the additional pick up and drop off times. That just seems such a huge leap from my current position of stay at home Mum though, for both me and the children.
However, private day care providers (not linked to a school) tend to have a more wide and flexible arrangement, and many will let you pick and choose your days to suit your needs. These types of nurseries, like the ones my daughters used to attend, might let you use the 30 hours based on your work schedule.
Check the fine print
Bear in mind, some daycare providers install a ‘core hours’ system, whereby only a limited number of funded hours can be utilised in any one session; the rest requiring a wrap around payment fee. Other nurseries may charge a fee for lunch or a lunch hour, or make up a deficit in funds by other fees. I read that not all nurseries manage financially well on the government funded scheme, therefore additional top ups are needed to tide things over. Perhaps the thirty hours extra capacity could even put some nurseries out of business?
Making the right decision for you
It all feels a little rock-and-a-hard-place. To return to my career would probably require an enrolment into a private nursery – the type we actively moved away from in order to select the best option for our kids introduction to the education system. Or recruiting a childminder which we just don’t feel is right for us at this time.
So what about increasing my time on my business; my blog. Yes, I could take the 30 hour week and blog in peace and quiet for five days a week. But that just doesn’t sit right. I started blogging around my life as a stay at home Mum, not returning to work so I could be here for my young children. Therefore putting my three year old in optional childcare to blog, that defies the whole principle of that decision doesn’t it?
I suppose the key factor here is a complex combination of options, choices and circumstances. My decision for myself and my family will be to not take up the thirty hours childcare, and to save that 9 to 3 school week for when the mouse joins her sister at primary school. I know the leap to thirty hours or so for our four year old was a huge leap, so we are unsure about putting that on her sister two years earlier than we have to. But, I appreciate how incredibly lucky I am to have a choice.
I’m choosing to hold on tight to the last couple of years having a cheeky mouse scurrying around my home, and I’ll defer my blog world domination or return to my previous career for another time…for now, soft play this afternoon anyone?
Have you been able to plan how the thirty hours scheme could work for you? I’d love to know your thoughts…