Petition Government to subsidise the costs of childcare to enable women to return to work

With the cost of childcare at nearly £2000 per month (for ‘full-time’ at a nursery), we are seeing an impact on our Island’s workforce as many women are forced to leave their jobs.

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According to a 2023 report, ‘Careers After Babies’, 85% of women leave full-time work within 3 years of having children. If the Government significantly subsidised childcare for children from 6 months of age, this would improve women’s ability to work.

We are seeing the lowest birth rate in decades as families simply can’t afford to have more children but by subsidising childcare people will be encouraged to increase the size of their families as they will be in an improved financial position. This, in turn, will reduce the issues of an aging population.

We need to have a varied and representative workforce in our island and childcare costs are a huge factor in this and needs to be addressed.

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Ministers responded

This response was given on 30 October 2023

Given the importance of early years in child development, a balanced approach is required to ensure that the best interests of the child are met in addition to the needs of parents and the economy.

The Government is committed to ensuring all children in Jersey have the best start in life. This includes Government subsidies for childcare. Our income tax system lets working parents claim the cost of childcare on their tax return, increasing the amount of income they can earn before they start paying tax. This includes payments to registered childcare providers such as child carers, day nurseries, and accredited nannies.

The maximum claim for the 2023 year of assessment is £18,300 for pre-school children; Government Plan 2024-2027 proposes to increase this to £19,700. The latest available data shows that there were around 2,300 claimants for the relief, equating to a £3 million childcare tax break annually, meaning the Government subsidises the costs of childcare by an average of £1,300 per claimant each year.

There are also a range of additional payments, grants and allowances targeted at the parents of young children.

Since 2020, new (working) parents in Jersey are entitled to 52 weeks of parental leave of which 6 weeks is paid by their employer – this is a “day one” employment right. Leave can be taken in up to 3 blocks, during a 2-year period and is available to both adoptive and surrogate parents. The law has also been updated to allow time off to attend antenatal and adoption related appointments.

Entitlements have also been extended in relation to breastfeeding breaks and facilities.

In terms of benefits (under the Social Security (Jersey) law 1974), these were enhanced in 2021 to extend the previous allowance and grant to include all parents i.e. not just birth mothers. Parents are able to claim up to 32 weeks of parental allowance, which can be split between the parents, as well as a one-off parental grant to help with some of the costs associated with preparing for a new baby. Plans are underway to better promote the availability of parental leave to both fathers and mothers, to encourage a more equitable use of this entitlement.

Jersey provides financial support for childcare through income support for low income working parents (and a limited number of full-time students). Support is available from 0-11 years inclusive. Hours cover working commitments. Current support is £8.84 per hour for under 3 years olds and £7.40 per hour for ages 3-11 inclusive (https://www.gov.je/Benefits/IncomeSupport/pages/components.aspx).

More details can be found on the following pages: Parental and family support (https://www.gov.je/benefits/maternityfamilysupport/Pages/index.aspx), Child care tax relief (https://www.gov.je/TaxesMoney/IncomeTax/Individuals/AllowancesReliefs/pages/childcaretaxrelief.aspx).

The recommendations of the Early Years Policy Development Board (https://www.gov.je/Government/PolicyDevelopmentBoards/pages/earlyyearspolicydevelopmentboard.aspx) have started to be implemented with an increase in the Nursery Education Fund (NEF) hours offered to children aged 3-4yrs from September 2021 (see Summary of childcare support offered by Jersey below).

In the short term, the Government has responded to the increasing cost of living by providing additional financial support measures for the early years sector. An annual increase to the NEF of 8% was agreed and brought forward from the autumn term to the summer term 2023. This equates to up to £627 additional funding per child in 2023 (https://www.gov.je/News/2023/Pages/AdditionalFundingForEarlyYearsProviders.aspx).

This increases the expenditure of the NEF to approximately £3.25m in 2023 or just under £8,500 per child.

Additional funding has also been provided to increase the targeted childcare offer for children aged between 2-3 years old. This provides Part-time (up to 12 hours a week) nursery placements for children aged between 2-3 years old with a developmental or financial need. By the end of 2023, 97 children were on the Best Start Plus Nursery Funding Programme.

Responding to the need for more childcare spaces, the Government has identified the importance of childminders in providing families with flexibility and choice of childcare arrangements. Financial support has been made available to incentivise people to become registered childminders. Additional funding has been made available to registered childminders in Jersey, to enable them to manage the pressures of cost of living expenses associated with providing a high-quality service.

Employment and economy

The above measures signify how important the sector is, not just to families, but to the economy as whole. Parents rely on having access to early years provision so that they can continue to work; meanwhile, children who receive high-quality care and early education will see the benefits throughout their lives. A balanced approach is required to ensure that the best interests of the child are met in addition to the needs of parents and the economy.

Economic activity data collected by Statistics Jersey shows that 84% of 16-64 year olds are economically active (in work or looking for work).

This compares to the UK economic activity rate of 79.1%. There are just 700 people actively seeking work – some of whom are working but might be looking to increase their hours.

The economic activity data would suggest that childcare availability and costs in Jersey are not acting as a barrier to work to the same extent as in the U.K. However, it may be that childcare availability and costs affect parents’ decisions on hours worked such that ideally, some would want to work more hours / in a different role.

The gender pay gap impacts on a family’s decision to either seek child care or for one or more parents/ family members to forgo paid employment to provide care in the home. Work is underway on tackling the gender pay gap and the message to larger companies is that they are expected to start voluntarily publishing their gender pay gap data along with an action plan of how they will eradicate any identified gap. While women across the majority of professions are still paid less on average than men, many families will still therefore make a rational economic decision for the mother to give up all or part of her paid employment in order to provide care for a child/children.

Closing the gender pay gap would deliver further gains in female earnings of 12% in Jersey (£187m) (https://www.pwc.com/jg/en/publications/women-in-work-index.html).

Policy development

The 2023/24 priorities of the Children and Education Ministerial Team include identifying and implementing a high-quality model of early years services that is child centred, equitable, efficient, and affordable, that can deliver very good outcomes for all children and families (https://www.gov.je/SiteCollectionDocuments/Government and administration/Ministerial Plans 2024 to 27.pdf).

The complexity of this challenge is considerable. Any changes to the sector need to make the best use of public funds and be in the best interests of children and families. The first phase of this work included a review by the ISOS Partnership of key messages from UK and international evidence on what an optimal early childhood education and childcare (ECEC) offer looks like for children’s wellbeing and development (https://www.gov.je/government/pages/statesreports.aspx?reportid=5697).

This review highlights the importance of thinking about ECEC reform in the context of a child’s home environment (the most important influence) and broader context. Any reforms need to be considered as part of a wider system of support for families.

Ministers are acutely aware of the contribution from both the private and third sectors to the success of any policy changes. We will continue to work with early years providers to understand and address the challenges of workforce pressures. Preparation is underway for the next phase of this work, with roundtable events to be held with key stakeholders to constructively examine policy options.

Subsequent phases of this policy work will involve a cross-government approach working towards an offer for families to be able to better access either parental leave or affordable high-quality childcare for children younger than 2 years of age.

Summary of childcare support offered by Jersey (comparison to ‘Glossary 2 – terms related to childcare payments’ – https://www.familyandchildcaretrust.org/sites/default/files/Resource%20Library/Childcare%20Survey%202023_Coram%20Family%20and%20Childcare.pdf)
• 2 year olds: Part-time (up to 12 hours a week) nursery placements for children aged between 2-3 years old with a developmental or financial need at two (https://jcct.org.je/programmes/nursery-funding-programme/). Funded by JCCT with additional support from Early Years COVID Recovery programme.
Special Needs Inclusion Programme available from birth to school age, who have an additional need and are accessing a private nursery or preschool setting (https://jcct.org.je/programmes/inclusion-programme/)
• 3 to 4 year-olds: Free Government funded nursery education in the school year the child turns four years old.
Up to 30 hours’ free nursery education each week, for 38 weeks, during school term-time only, from the beginning of the school year (September) (https://www.gov.je/education/preschool/pages/nurseryeducation.aspx). Universal offer irrespective of working status of parents.
• Child care tax relief
• Income support

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