Childcare costs conundrum

childcare blog

As I’m at home with a sick boy today (he must have caught something from hanging around with all those trainee teachers the other day – they’re full of germs, teachers), I’ve been enjoying the debate about whether we should ask nursery staff and childminders to look after even more children.

The new plans ( mean that nursery staff will be responsible for six two-year-olds per adult rather than four, and staff will be able to look after four children of one and under rather than three.

And instead of only being able to look after one baby under one and three under fives, childminders will now be able to look after two babies and four under fives – all day. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a nightmare, not a job!

It’s a cheap shot, but also irresistible to ask the minister responsible, Liz Truss, how she would fancy looking after two babies and four under fives herself. She responded pretty well when asked, stressing what a skilful job it was and how she wasn’t qualified for it, which is true, but also a tad mealy-mouthed. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe a childminder’s job was always in her sights but she decided against it because she didn’t have the necessary NVQs.

Shortly after the news broke, I began listening to an interview with Noel Sharkey, a scientist who has dedicated his life to inventing a robot that can replicate human behaviour. He once wowed a roomful of students by playing them a film of a robot folding a towel. What they hadn’t realised was that the film had been speeded up 50 times – in reality it had taken the robot almost half an hour to fold one towel.

Which got me thinking. How much are we all guilty of undervaluing the time, effort and skill it takes other people (or robots!) to get things we don’t want to do, done. As always, it comes down to the amount of respect, time and money we are prepared to devote to people who look after young children. It’s not a question of not being able to afford it, it’s a question of choosing to afford it. I’m typing this on a machine that cost several hundred pounds. It’s clearly a sophisticated all-singing, all-dancing tablet with more brains than I have. The price is non-negotiable, so if I want one, I have to bite the bullet and pay for it.

If we park our car on a busy street, we wince but we don’t refuse to pay up to £4 an hour to park. We’ll shell out £7 an hour for a ballet class or £20 an hour for a guitar lesson, but ask us to stump up more than £6.60 an hour for a nursery teacher or a childminder and all hell breaks loose.

Is it because the skills they need are invisible and assumed to be universal? Because so many young girls coo over babies we assume they will be great natural carers and refuse to pay them much?

The law of economics means that we will always pay less for something we think is in plentiful supply, like a teenage girl with few formal qualifications, and pay more for something that is rare and therefore considered more valuable, like David Beckham or a parking space outside Debenhams.

Sometimes, like Professor Noel Sharkey’s robot, I think we ought to factor in just how brilliant they are and what amazing things they achieve and add that to the bill.

What do you think? Do we value childcare as much as we should? Let me know.

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