Upon first impressions, 30 hours of free childcare for working parents appears a great idea. It would allow children to receive quality childcare whilst their parents work, free of charge. Like most things in this world, it comes with a hidden charge - one on the behalf of the childcare providers. The proposal of free care does not simultaneously benefit parents and childcare providers, proving to be a source of difficulty for those involved.

In September 2017, the government launched the 30-hour free funding scheme. This makes parents of 3-4-year-olds eligible for 30 hours of free childcare, so long as they meet regulations, such as earning below £100,000 per annum. The delivery of the 30 hours is in the hands of the childcare provider, as there is no mandatory schedule for its delivery. The 30 hours do not have to be delivered by only one childcare provider, it can be divided by the parent to cover care for different hours of the day (nursery and a childminder). The rate given to childcare providers does not cover consumables or additional services.

The local authority of the childminder determines how much the childminder is compensated by the state for the free placement. Currently, the rate for childminders in the Borough of Richmond Upon Thames, the rate is £4.90/h but will rise in the following year to £5.71 (ref.NurseryWorld).

For local childminders, this rate is lower than what they would charge hourly without funding, therefore it does not benefit them in any way. The funding cannot be ‘topped up’ to make up the normal hourly rate of the childminder. Fees can be charged for additional services such as food and outings, however many parents decline to pay for these services and opt to provide their child’s food, therefore leaving the childcare provider at a loss.

The government/local authority combat this frequent complaint by stating that childminders can care for more than one child, making up more money per hour. This is beside the point, however, as childminders can only take on regulated numbers of children according to the official guidelines, and work may not be there for them to take on.

It is not compulsory for childminders to offer 30 hours of free funding, yet refusing to offer it can create a range of other issues. Most parents want to use the free funding for their child's place, therefore are more inclined to place their children in the care of someone who offers this as the financial strain is then less for them. This reduces the number of enquiries and requests for childcare that some childminders receive.

Whilst childminders provide the best care they can, which is required by Ofsted to be of a high standard, the free funding system undermines the specialised service that is offered. On average, childminders charge rates that are much lower than nurseries, despite offering one-to-one care, but they cannot afford to run the same quality service on less money, especially as they rely on outings and activities that cost money to provide. The hourly rate of free funding does not cover these extra services that are provided leaving the childcare provider at a loss.

The 30-hours of ‘free’ funding, from the perspective of parents, appears a fantastic idea. Behind its glorious appeal, is the reality that, like most things in life, it is not ‘free’. The placements are subsidised, and leave childcare providers at a loss, perhaps causing more harm than good.