Last reviewed 2 September 2013

Judith Allen looks at the issues in the news for August.

Tax-Free Childcare scheme: government asks for parents’ views

The Government has published a consultation giving more detail on its Tax-Free Childcare scheme, asking parents for their views on how the government programme to help working families with childcare costs should be run.

The consultation sets out new detail on eligibility for the scheme. Parents who are not working because they are on parental leave or because they are carers will be able to claim.

The document also proposes that the scheme will be aligned to the school year, so that children in the same class are treated consistently, and confirms that the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme will cover 20% — equivalent to the basic rate of tax — of working families’ childcare costs up to a limit of £6000 per year per child, ie £1200.

In the first year of the scheme, starting in autumn 2015, children born in or after September 2010 will be eligible (ie under five and younger five-year-olds). This will increase to 6 in the second year, and so on, until children under 12 are eligible. Once the scheme has been fully phased in, eligibility will end in the September following the child’s 11th birthday.

To be eligible for the scheme, families will have all parents in work, with each earning less than £150,000 per year, and will not already receive support through tax credits (or Universal Credit in the future) or the current Employer Supported Childcare scheme.

The scheme will be run through online voucher accounts.

Tax-Free Childcare will be worth up to £1000 per child per year. Once fully up and running, the scheme will be available to up to 2.5 million families and will save a typical working family with 2 children under 12 up to £2400 per year.

The average cost of a part-time nursery place for a child under two in the UK is now over £5000 per year.

The Government is also running the consultation through a simple online questionnaire to make it as easy as possible for parents to respond.

Tax-Free Childcare: consultation on design and operation is available here.

Cost of raising a child rises by 4%

Parents' growing struggle to provide a decent standard of living for their families in 2013 is shown in new research published by the Child Poverty Action Group.

The cost of living rose by 25% between 2008 and 2013, and childcare rose by 37% during the same period, over twice the official inflation rate. Meanwhile, family income has risen by just 5% since 2008. Unsurprisingly, families are facing increasing financial pressures as living standards are falling.

The charity believes that the introduction of universal credit from October this year will have mixed results for families. However, for both couples and lone parents working full time on the minimum wage, the new system will still leave them some way short of an acceptable standard of living. Many low-income families have also seen cuts in housing support with the introduction of changes such as the “bedroom tax”.

The research reveals that families with children are at higher risk of poverty than those without. It now costs a minimum of £148,000 to bring up a child to age 18, just meeting their minimum needs; this represents a figure of up to £160 a week.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Child benefit and child tax credit have been cut at the very time families need them the most. Families are getting worse off and parents know it.”

More affordable childcare

The Department for Education (DfE) published “More affordable childcare” on 16 July, setting out plans for improving the supply of affordable childcare.

The plans include:

  • helping schools to offer affordable after-school and holiday care, either alone or working with private and voluntary providers

  • enabling nurseries to expand by reducing red tape and removing planning restrictions

  • ensuring that childminders and providers that are classified by Ofsted as good or outstanding can automatically receive government funding for two, three and four-year-olds.

All good and outstanding childminders and providers will automatically be eligible to receive government early education funding from September 2013. Currently, local authorities are responsible for this funding. This reform should help create a fairer market for childminders, which alongside the introduction of childminder agencies could see increased choice for parents who want high-quality home-based care.

The change will free local authorities to work together with Ofsted to improve weaker providers and attract new strong providers to their areas.

Long-term, there are plans to look into introducing a national funding formula for early education.

“More affordable childcare” is available here.

Hands-up to “baseline” test at the start of Reception?

The EYFS profile could be scrapped and replaced by a formal test when children start school.

In proposals put out for consultation, children will be assessed using “a baseline check” when they start Reception.

The consultation asks for suggestions as to when the baseline would be set, for example, at the age of seven or “a simple check of a child’s ability” in the early weeks of when they start school.

The move to make the EYFS Profile non-statutory follows general comments that the EYFS Profile provides a "weak basis for accountability" in its current form and called for "a major change" in the approach to assessing the early years.

Prior to the introduction of the EYFS, Profile baseline assessment used to occur during the first seven weeks of children starting Reception.

The consultation document reports that a baseline check early in Reception would allow the crucial progress made in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 to be reflected in the accountability system and would reinforce the importance of early intervention. The EYFS would remain in place but, to avoid increasing the assessment burden, the EYFS Profile could become non-statutory.

Commenting on the plans, the Pre-school Learning Alliance has voiced concerns that a government plan to introduce testing of children at the age of five in England appears to be part of a growing trend of "schoolification" pressures on early years.

The consultation is available here and closes on 11 October 2013.

Too many children in London go to bed hungry

Nine per cent of children in London, the equivalent of 74,000 in real terms, sometimes or often go to bed hungry, according to research by the London Food Board.

One in eight parents reported that their children have had to skip meals as there was not enough to eat and 15% said that their children always or often tell them they are hungry.

The report into the breadth and depth of child hunger in London, amidst rising food prices and the prevailing economic climate, found that two in five parents surveyed have had to cut back on the amount of food they buy.

In particular, a third of parents said they had cut back on fresh fruit and vegetables in the past month in favour of cheaper, frozen foods that represent better value for money as they last longer.

Other coping strategies used by parents included turning to their wider families to help them feed their children, using money-off vouchers and taking up Free School Meals.

One in 10 children stated that their biggest meal of the day was their school lunch, a figure which the report’s authors say equates to around 82,000 children in real terms.

While many parents said they relied on free school meals, some children reported not taking up the school meals because of the stigma attached, and another 16% of children were embarrassed to have them.