A child at nursery with her teacher

Navigating the complex childcare system

How do you get help with your childcare costs? Do you use 15 hours or 30 hours? Tax-Free Childcare or working tax credits? Are you working more than 16 hours per week and how old is your child? New research published today by the National Centre for Social Research and commissioned by Save the Children, shows just how difficult it is for parents to navigate this system.

The childcare landscape in England is complex, with a wide variety of support available to parents depending on factors such as income, child’s age and working status. The introduction of two new childcare policies last year – 30 hours and tax-free childcare – plus the phasing out of childcare vouchers and the transition to Universal Credit, has compounded this complexity, with the system of support in a state of flux.

Access to high-quality childcare is crucial for parents and children

High-quality childcare is key for children’s development – it’s where they learn the skills and confidence to thrive when they start school. And affordable childcare helps parents, particularly mothers, to return to and stay in work, allowing them to raise their incomes and help provide their children with the experiences and opportunities they need to thrive.

Government support with childcare costs is essential to allow parents to access this crucial resource. But the complexity of the system risks undermining this – parents may be confused about what they can claim, be unsure about whether they are eligible or simply not have heard of all the sources of support available.

To delve further into this issue, we commissioned NatCen research into parents’ awareness and understanding of childcare entitlements, to explore how this complexity affects parents’ take-up, and what channels of information are most helpful to parents to enable them to find out about entitlements.

The research found that, understandably, there was confusion about the different entitlements available. While parents had heard of the support available, they often did not understand the different eligibility criteria or who the policy was aimed for. They described an ‘information overload’ which made it harder for them to gain an overview of the support available – with so many different policies with different criteria, parents struggled to engage with the detail of each policy.

Getting information right is crucial so parents can access the support they need

The research found that, while parents used a variety of information sources according to their situation, certain trusted sources were particularly key. Parents particularly valued speaking directly to people they perceived to be knowledgeable: childcare providers, jobcentre staff and telephone helplines were all seen as valuable sources of information. And government websites were helpful for parents looking to back up information and find out more.

But the confusion and lack of understanding which the research uncovered highlights the need to do more to help families. Parents need clear, accessible sources of information to enable them to take up all the government support they are entitled to, and make informed decisions about working and using childcare.

The challenge of Universal Credit

This is particularly true for families navigating Universal Credit, who are most likely to struggle on low incomes, and face big challenges with getting the right information and support through UC. Based on NatCen’s new research, and other analysis, Save the Children is calling on the government to improve information to parents in two key ways:

  • Ensuring work coaches are properly trained on all forms of childcare support
  • Providing parents with targeted information about the childcare support they are entitled to.

We’re also calling for changes to the way childcare support in Universal Credit works: allowing parents to claim help with their childcare costs upfront, and increasing the support available to parents. Great childcare sets children up for life – we need to ensure that all parents can access it so that their children can learn and thrive.

Leave a Reply