RISING costs of childcare are down to 'inadequate' government funding and nurseries being under-valued, an early years lead said.

Alice Bennett who is chair of Worcestershire Independent Providers Society and owns Worcester and Madresfield Early Years Centres said: “You have to equate costs with quality. There is an assumption that early years workers are inferior to mainstream teachers. We are regarded as a second-rate mother’s help brigade rather than part of the education system.”

“We are here to educate and give young children the best start in life. Too many people think it is just a place for children to be dropped off so parents can go to work. It isn’t just childcare, we offer a beautiful setting and facilities that are open 11 hours daily, so the costs are going to be different. We are not just minding children, we are educating them and giving them the very best start in life with highly qualified and experienced staff.”

“I myself have two degrees and an MBE and many of my staff teams are all highly skilled and qualified.”

Staff pay levels in nurseries remain half of what teachers in mainstream schools receive, Mrs Bennett said.

Early years providers also look after children with special educational needs and disabilities. Many have behavioural issues or suffer from the effects of deprivation.

The Government has released its childcare and early years survey of parents 2019, reporting a rise in the number of families that found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to meet their childcare costs. In conjunction with this survey, research led by childcare platform, Yoopies UK, revealed that the UK ranks in the top three most expensive countries for childcare in Europe, surpassing the price of UK University tuition fees.

All nurseries in England pay full business rates and VAT on everything from utilities to toys, unlike other schools who do not.

“The unfair system in this country for nurseries is debilitating” Mrs Bennett said.

Mrs Bennett says political parties have used early years education as a “political tool.” She said: “They promise 'we will give you 20 hours free' or 'we’ll give you 30 hours free.’ Our vocation is used as a bargaining chip and this is totally inappropriate and unethical."

The funding rate given to nurseries by the government is currently £4.14 an hour in Worcestershire which Mrs Bennett said is “totally inadequate.”

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“I can’t pay my overheads or my staff properly on just £4.14 an hour. The government funding level is too low and unfairly varies from county to county. My staff and I are proud advocates of children’s rights and entitlements. Too often their voice and their needs are totally disregarded in our economically driven society" said Mrs Bennett.