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Nick’s nursery-school economics

By Angela Harbutt
February 19th, 2015 at 2:50 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

The new Family and Childcare Trust report , out today, is receiving wide coverage. Dramatic headlines proclaim that “The cost of childcare so high that it does not pay UK families to work” (Guardian headline). The price of a part-time nursery place for a child under two has gone up, the report states, by almost a third in the last five years with parents now being forced to pay more than £6,000 a year.

The cost of childcare is undoubtedly an area that political parties are likely to squabble over as the general election approaches. Indeed Nick Clegg has already come out of the traps promising more for “hard working families”.

At present, parents of three and four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds, are offered 15 free hours’ childcare per week in termtime. Nick has pledged today to extend this to give away 15 hours a week “free” for all two-year-olds and for those children of working parents aged between nine months and two years “saving families thousands of pounds”. He also said Liberal Democrats aimed to increase free provision to 20 hours in the longer term.

Good for the kids, great for the parents, fantastic for society. Maybe….

But let us consider for a moment why childcare is so expensive and indeed why costs have risen so dramatically and look set to rise further.

Let’s start with the basics. Childcare is labour intensive. The law says (last time I looked) that one nursery worker can look after no more than three children under two, where children are over two the ratio is 1:4 and for over-threes it is 1:8. National Insurance, pensions and salaries for workers account for 77% of a nursery’s costs – that’s a healthy slug of the cost. Added to that, nurseries are also now expected to have more qualified staff, adding to the costs. And lest we forget, nurseries’ staff costs are set to increase in 2015 with pension auto-enrolment responsibilities coming in for many small and medium size businesses.

Government giveth with one hand and taketh away with another.

And if nurseries are forced to pay all staff the Living Wage, as many Councils appear to be considering, this would push up costs further (by an estimated 13%).

Then there are the additional costs facing a typical nursery. Insurance is very expensive (and rising every year it seems). Add in rent, heating and lighting, cleaning, food, maintenance etc most of which have risen dramatically in one way or another over the past few years. Then consider business rates and VAT (up from 17.5% to 20% in 2011) pushing up the cost of childcare. The average annual business rate paid by nurseries is almost £16,000. Most nurseries are not able to benefit from small business rate relief, as their rateable value at an average £30,000 is well above the threshold. And let us not forget that compliance with the never-ending list of Government rules and regulations has also added to costs (providers of childcare are subject to Ofsted inspection in the same way as schools for older children).

This can explain part of the rising cost in childcare fees, but by no means all of it. The biggest cause of the rising costs of childcare is the “free” Government subsidy.

Nurseries have to provide 15 hours of free childcare for children over the age of three. Although the Government (i.e. the taxpayer) pays for this, according to the National Day Nurseries Association, (NDNA) they only get paid £3.80 an hour per child from the Government to provide the care. This payment does not cover the cost of care, it argues, leaving a shortfall per child per year. Underfunding has been reported by NDNA in six successive nursery surveys over four years.

So how do nurseries make up the shortfall? By effectively increasing the costs to parents who pay for care above and beyond the 15 hours and those with children under 2 years old.

Simple economics!

The more hours nurseries are expected to provide at a loss to their business, the more they will pass the cost on to parents paying for additional hours of childcare beyond the free 15 hours, or for children below the entitlement age.

Don’t take my word for it. The NDNA says

“The money that childcare providers currently receive to deliver free hours falls short by an average of £800 per child per year for each funded three to four-year-old place and £700 for each two-year-old place.

“Nurseries are being forced to increase their fees to parents who pay for additional hours, or for younger children not eligible for funded places, to make up the funding shortfall.

“For most nurseries, the average sum received of £3.80 per hour does not cover the cost of high-quality childcare, let alone make a surplus.”

“This is the biggest single reason that nursery fees are rising for some paying parents who end up subsidising the free places.”

The more governments tinker with the market, and meddle in matters best left to parents the more problems they cause.

So Nick please note, offering more “free” places is not the solution, nor is the planned extension to 20 hours. It’s most likely to exacerbate the problem, driving more nurseries out of business; limiting choices to parents and driving up costs still further for parents seeking more than the “free” entitlement. It may get you a few extra votes this May, but, voters wont thank you in the long term.

“Free” is not “free” it always costs somebody something – more when the Government get’s its sticky fingers involved.

Of course some will say that the simple solution is to pay nurseries more. That might reduce childcare costs in the wider sense – removing the subsidy effect.

But what will get cut to fund this act of largess to those who choose to have children? And is it fair? Nick appears to be penalising parents who elect for one parent to stay at home to nurture their children in pre-school years. Why are they excluded from this election gift to parents? Indeed why make it free for all? Much like the winter fuel allowance, why provide this those who don’t need it.

This is the worst kind of lib demmery. No wonder the party is the mire if this is typical of it’s offering.

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EVENT: Stop the Nonsense

By Angela Harbutt
February 16th, 2015 at 3:18 pm | No Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

STOPthenonsense_RSVP_webJust in case you have not heard about this elsewhere, here is an must-not-miss event scheduled for next week. Plain speaking on plain packaging.

Tuesday 24th February at the IOD in London. RSVP to events@forestonline.org or click here for more information on the event.

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Silly Friday story? Maybe not…

By Editor
February 13th, 2015 at 1:39 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

In a never-ending drive to invade every part of our privacy, latest guidelines from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to family doctors is to prescribe, amongst other things, more sex to patients who are deemed to require more exercise. Ew!

And it get’s worse, the guidelines suggest that patients could then be called or texted by their doctor to make sure they are sticking to the advice. Really?

What planet are these people from? Bad enough that you go to visit your local GP and get asked how much you drink and how many cigarettes you smoke, you may now start being asked how regularly you are having sex and whether it might be a good idea to have a bit more – and you only came in with a tummy bug! And don’t they know that most patients don’t even know their so-called “family doctor”.

When we first heard about it we thought it was some kind of joke, but no it is in the report in black and white and even the press release extols the virtue of heavy breathing between the sheets:

“[The report] calls on doctors to encourage their patients to make a start with regular activities that are free and easy to do; a brisk walk – one that makes you slightly sweaty and slightly out of breath – costs nothing. Dancing, cycling, even sex, it argues, can all bring dramatic health benefits”.

Take the sex out of the document and it’s not that bad a document. The overall message – prevention is better than cure- -is a good one, though it does seem rather “ABC” – do doctors really need to be told not to be preachy,  not to assume the patient is lazy, and not to expect people to respond immediately to their advice etc?

But why anyone thought it was a good idea to suggest doctors get personal is beyond us. On one level it is amusing. On another it’s down right creepy. As patients, we have a right to keep our personal lives to ourselves and our bodies are our own. Doctors do not and should not have the right to probe into every aspect of our lives. Lest the academics forget, they are our bodies not theirs.

To read the AOMRC report and the press statement click here .

Ill-judged sideshow has little public support

By Angela Harbutt
February 12th, 2015 at 2:33 pm | No Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

hoopsWith Parliament formally dissolving on March 30th, the outgoing parliament will not be able to complete all of its work, resulting inevitably in many Government plans falling by the wayside. Of course, some will say this is a good thing – the less Government does the better!

But what, do you think, voters believe the priorities of the Government should be in the remaining days?

No need to wonder. Forest has commissioned an exclusive poll asking voters this very question.

Respected research company Populus asked more than 2,000 members of the public, on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = not important at all and 10 = very important, the level of importance they attach to completing outstanding pieces of legislation facing the remainder of this parliament.

Those ranking highest included: “controlling the UK’s borders and reducing immigration”; “tougher counter-terrorism and security laws”; “stopping human trafficking”; “improving access to affordable housing”; “making it easier for employers to take on apprentices”.

“Introducing plain packaging for cigarettes” was the lowest of any of the variables tested, with a mean importance rating of just 3.51. The closest variable, “regulating the future of the fracking sector”, scored 6.10.

It does make you wonder no Davewhat on earth possessed the Government to determine in the dying days of parliament to force in a vote on plain packaging, particularly as evidence from Australia shows the policy hasn’t worked, with teen smoking rates increasing by 36% from 2010 to 2013?

Of course the answer is “politics dear boy”. As Simon Clark, Director of Forest says

“Plain packaging legislation is an ill-judged sideshow and a distraction from the real challenges the government faces before the end of this parliament.”

I have written to my local MP, Jane Ellison, again, asking her to vote no at the upcoming vote. But given that she is the minister who has forced this bill into parliament I am not terribly optimistic that she has any intention to listening tlast chance saloono me or any other voter in this constituency. Indeed, given that the Government’s 2012 “public” consultation on plain packaging delivered a resounding NO!  to the whole idea – what are the chances that she will listen now? Here is hoping that voters will show Ellison and her ilk the same contempt that they have quite clearly shown the public come May 7th, and that some elected politicians will think twice before voting “aye” to this cynical and ill-conceived piece of politics.

Want to find out more?

For survey results and more from Forest click here.

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Public Health’s daft daff directive

By Editor
February 12th, 2015 at 11:10 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

It is no way near April 1st but this was no April Fools, thought you may be mistaken for taking it as one..

“Supermarkets have been urged to keep daffodils away from fruit and vegetable aisles this spring – in case they are mistaken for food.

In a letter to major stores, Public Health England warned the flowers could be confused with onions or Chinese vegetables, and consumption of them was an “emerging risk”. ” BBC 7th February 2015

Have we really got to that stage in the “Government micro-manages everything” route plan, that Public Health bodies are now telling retailers how to arrange their products? Well actually we are probably well past that point. But if PHE are really concerned about the upcoming daffodil epidemic about to sweep though the land, they may wish to impart this information to every fruit and veg stall (which have been selling daffs this time of year back to year dot), and ensure every mini-market and farm shop across the country is likewise informed. And why stop there? Perhaps a leaflet campaign (in 14 languages obviously) ? Mandatory lessons in schools? A Jamie Oliver special? or A poster campaign or even a TV advert warning parents to keep their springtime floral displays well away from curious children’s hands? After all “if it saves one life”….

Meanwhile the rest of us will continue to worry about the important stuff – the failure of GPs to diagnose cancer earlier; why more resources are not devoted to dementia research; the chronic state of the NHS; whether TB is a ticking time bomb; our abilities to identify/withstand infectious disease outbreaks; childhood vaccination information etc

It never fails to amaze us just how stupid quangos believe UK citizen’s to be. Nor, indeed, the lengths they are willing to go to, to extend their sphere of power and influence by one inch.

Needless to say, the comments on the BBC website almost universally share our disbelief/exasperation of PHE. We especially enjoyed the item below. Our thanks to “Moo” whoever you are – it made us smile.

“Comment 47

I wander’d slowly round the aisles,
Wondering about the high food bills,
When all at once I came across,
A host of tasty daffodils,
Those juicy stems of greens and yellow,
Could tempt any thrifty fellow,
I’ll take them home and prepare a meal,
Of tasty, yellow daffodil.”

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