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Crisis in accessing childcare across London

Parents are struggling to find professionals to look after their children as demand exceeds supply, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democacy Reporter

credit Kostiantyn Li via Unsplash
credit Kostiantyn Li via Unsplash

Childcare in London is now in such short supply that parents are resorting to ‘nanny-poaching’ in school playgrounds, City Hall has been told.

Concerns over the high cost and low availability of childcare in the capital were discussed at a meeting of the London Assembly’s economy committee on Tuesday.

Joeli Brearley, founder and CEO of the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “We’ve found that the really key issue in London is availability, compared to the rest of the UK.

“London parents find it very difficult to find any childcare. We’ve heard stories from London parents saying that in the playground, people are trying to poach nannies from other parents, because they’re so desperate for any form of childcare.”

Joeli also warned of “childcare deserts” in some of the city’s most deprived areas. “All of the schemes are very complicated, they’re very difficult to access,” she said.

“We know that there are childcare deserts in areas of deprivation, due to the underfunding of the 3-4 year-old entitlement.

“Areas of deprivation are more reliant on those funded schemes, which are underfunded, and so they make those providers not sustainable.”

Iain Mansfield, director of research at Policy Exchange – a conservative think tank – told the committee: “In the last ten years, almost half of childminders have left the profession.

“In London, we know from a 2018 study for the GLA [Greater London Authority] that 30% had quit in the previous nine years, and we know that more will have quit over the period of the pandemic.

“This matters. This matters because reducing supply drives up costs.”

Iain, who previously served as an advisor to former education secretary Gavin Williamson, added: “The best comparison here is with the housing market, in that we have regulated supply, we stop people building houses, that drives up the price – and so the response is to subsidise demand, by help-to-buy.

“In the same way, all the support goes into supporting with [childcare] costs, and not to increase availability.”

The committee is in the process of gathering evidence for a report on the issue, which will make recommendations for how the childcare system could be improved.

A government spokesman said: “We are introducing the largest ever expansion of free childcare in England, worth up to an average of £6,500 per child per year for a working family.

“We recognise the cost pressures that childcare can create for parents, and low-income families already qualify for 15 hours free childcare for two-year-olds, a year before all children become eligible for 15 hours at ages three and four.

“We are also increasing the childcare costs that parents on universal credit can claim back by around 50%, up to £950 a month for a single child and £1,629 for two children.”