Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Childcare Voucher Provider Suggests Simple Childcare Funding Changes



 The UK is eagerly awaiting an announcement by the government about plans to change the childcare funding parents can receive towards their childcare costs.  With UK childcare being amongst the most expensive in the world, costing some parents up to a third of their household income, there is a definite need to reform the current funding systems.

There has been a lot of speculation about what from any funding changes would take and how the government will go about introducing these.  Changes may range from tax breaks for parents, new voucher schemes and extending the amount of free nursery hours for children.  The main reason the government is looking at making changes is to rebalance the help parents receive with their childcare costs and to give parents the incentives to go to work. 

Childcare Vouchers are currently the most popular method of saving money on childcare costs, helping more than 500,000 working parents nationwide.  The Childcare Voucher scheme is simple and free for the government to administer as it is ran by independent providers such as Busy Bees Benefits.  The question to ask therefore is, ‘Why is the government suggesting spending money on introducing a new system when the current Childcare Voucher scheme is a current success?’

In a recent survey by Busy Bees Benefits, 1 in 3 parents* believed the provision of Childcare Vouchers influenced their decision to return to work or remain with their employer after having a family.  The current Childcare Voucher scheme ensures that parents use only registered providers, making regular checks to certify their registration, ensuring the safety of using a particular provider and the quality of care children will receive.

Therefore, making some simple changes to the current Childcare Voucher scheme could be the answer to making childcare more affordable and the easiest to implement as the system already exists.  Busy Bees Benefits has suggested the government should:
  • Increase the cap on Childcare Vouchers.  Working parents are currently allowed to exchange up to £55*** per week from their salary for Childcare Vouchers.  Busy Bees Benefits are running a campaign to increase the allowance to £75*** to increase the savings parents can make and as such make childcare costs more affordable.
  • Extending Childcare Vouchers to self-employed parents would allow more parents to receive help with their childcare costs.  This would allow self-employed parents to receive the same amount of support as parents in employment.  The scheme could be easily adapted with minimal administration changes.
  • Increase access to the scheme.  Employees should have a ‘right to request’ which would mean employers have to offer the scheme.
  • Allowing working parents on National Minimum Wage to also use Childcare Vouchers.  The current scheme does not allow employees to take vouchers if by doing so they would fall below National Minimum Wage levels, therefore those already earning National Minimum Wage are not eligible to use Childcare Vouchers.  Extending the scheme to those on National Minimum Wage would enable thousands more parents to save money on their childcare costs.  The current ruling takes away their choice to sacrifice salary for Childcare Vouchers.  Often women having a break from work, through having a family, take low-paid jobs to get back into employment.  This is the time when they will need to use childcare to enable them to progress in their career.  However, without the financial support they would get with Childcare Vouchers, many find this harder as childcare costs are so high.
John Woodward, CEO of the Busy Bees Group, said “The Childcare Voucher system is the most effective way of helping working parents to save money.  The current Childcare Voucher scheme is not bureaucratic and could easily be extended to allow working parents to save more.  We understand the importance of providing quality childcare, therefore, supporting parents to enable them to choose the childcare their children require is important and helping to make it more affordable is imperative to encouraging parents back into work.”

The current Childcare Voucher scheme has not changed since 2006, the £55*** per week cap has not increased during this time, even though childcare costs have continued to rise.  The Busy Bees Benefits ‘Mind the Gap – Raise the Cap’ campaign is being supported by other Childcare Voucher providers and aims to persuade the government to increase the allowance to £75*** per week which would see parents being able to save over £300*** more per year on the cost of their childcare.  To support the campaign an e-petition can be signed here - http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31669.

For more information about childcare vouchers and the Busy Bees campaign visit www.busybeesbenefits.com

Ends

Notes
 *Busy Bees Benefits customer survey November 2012.
***Subject to individual circumstances



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