Lone Parents, The Benefit System

Childcare ratios

Childcare ratios

This blog has previously noted developments in childcare when the government announced major increases in childcare support (here). The blog also noted that free market think tanks criticised the plans, as they claimed that structural reform of the regulatory environment of childcare was necessary. Government efforts to deregulate childcare has ground to a halt this week, as Clegg announced that he was unconvinced by a major component of the proposed deregulation: increasing childcare ratios[1] [2].

Childcare ratios refer to the number of children that a single childminder is permitted to look after. Raising the ratios would mean that nurseries and childminders would be allowed to look after more children. The proposal would mean:

  • One-years old and younger: current ratio = 1:3, proposed ratio = 1.4
  • Two-year olds: current ratio = 1:4, proposed ratio = 1:6
  • Three-years old and older: current ratio = 1:8, proposed ratio = 1:13[3]

The government claims that this would bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe. For instance, in Norway the childcare ratio is 1:8, in Italy the ratio is 1:7 and in Portugal the childcare ratio is as high as 1:11![3] [4]

In the House of Commons, Liz Truss defended her reforms, claiming that “the current system of childcare is not working for parents” as evidenced by the fact that parents spend twice as much of their income on childcare compared to countries like France. Moreover, the UK government spends twice as much on childcare support than the OECD average. This, she claimed, was adequate evidence that structural reform, not more subsidies, were required[5]. This opinion was echoed by the free market think tank The Institute for Economic Affairs. The IEA blamed “staffing ratios…demanding health and safety conditions, local authority and Criminal Records Bureau checks…[and] the unnecessary and expensive Early Years Foundation Stage” for the high cost of childcare, and claimed that the government should be deregulating with less timidity[6].

The reaction by education experts to the proposals has been negative. Leading education experts claimed that the consequence of ratio changes would be to reduce the quality of childcare and create a ‘two-tier childcare sector’, with prosperous areas retaining the current ratios and disadvantaged areas switching to higher ratios[7]. Experts claim that childcare can only be improved ensuring childcare staff have better qualifications[8].

Public opinion polls show that the public narrowly oppose the ratio change, with 36% being in favour and 41% opposing the reforms. The public do support extra tax allowances for people paying childcare costs with 47% being in favour and 33% opposing such a policy. The public also opposes raising staff qualifications, with 25% thinking that qualifications should be relaxed, 21% thinking that qualification requirements should be raised and 45% thinking that qualification requirements should are currently correct[9].


  • Will raising childcare ratios damage care as it means childminders will have less time to spend on each child? Or will it help children socialise with larger groups from an early age?
  • Should qualifications be raised? Or will this raise the cost of childcare?

By Will Archdeacon

Quoted links

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/may/09/nick-clegg-doubt-childcare-reforms?

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/10047845/Clegg-under-attack-for-trying-to-veto-childcare-proposals.html

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21232270

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22462263?

[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/video/2013/may/09/elizabeth-truss-childcare-plans-video

[6] http://www.iea.org.uk/blog/contradictory-uk-childcare-policy-won%E2%80%99t-halt-rising-costs-for-parents

[7] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/27/childcare-ratio-changes-appalling?

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/may/09/education-experts-doubts-childcare-reforms?

[9] http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/q6rxg0empy/YG-Archive-Pol-Sunday-Times-results-01-030213.pdf


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