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LONDON JULY 4 2022 -  Save The Children UK has responded to the government's announcement that they will consult on reducing the early years staff-to-child ratio of 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds. This is part of proposals the government say could drive down costs of childcare for providers and parents.

Responding to the annoucnement, Save The Children's Head of Early Years, Tracy Jackson OBE, said:  “It is good to see the government is looking at the extortionate costs of childcare in this country, but the focus on increasing the staff-child ratios is misguided. These regulations are in place to ensure children receive high-quality childcare that aids their early learning and development. The proposed measures are unlikely to reduce costs for families but will undoubtedly impact on quality, which could have long-lasting implications for children.   

“Some international comparisons used to justify ratio changes are not useful either, as they ignore the very varying levels of training received in different countries, and the fact that support staff are often not included in these ratios abroad. It is also unclear how changing ratios would save parents money, particularly as funding is a long-standing issue for providers and like the rest of the country, they are struggling with the current cost of living crisis. 

“Instead of focusing on ratios, the government could take other steps. They should focus on the childcare element of Universal Credit which is a crucial way of supporting parents on low incomes. Parents working and receiving Universal Credit can claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs, up to a cap, but they have to pay the fees upfront first which can send families into debt. The Department for Work and Pensions should instead pay childcare via Universal Credit upfront in arrears.

"The campaign launched by the government to increase uptake of the childcare element in Universal Credit is welcome but until these problems with the system are resolved childcare costs still form a barrier to work and push many families into hardship. The department could also increase the cap on childcare costs paid via Universal Credit to make sure it covers a full-time childcare place in every area of the country, including London.

“Without a far more expansive approach to high quality childcare and education provision from this government, there is a significant risk parents and carers won’t be able to get out to work to increase family incomes. Children will also miss out on vital learning opportunities.”

Supporting the take-up of free high quality nursery places for two-year-olds from families on the lowest incomes should also be supported. This is a major focus for Save the Children as we know disadvantaged four and five year olds in England were on average 4.6 months behind their better off peers in 2020, according to the Education Policy Institute.

The Meadows Nursery in Sheffield, which is part of Sheffield Hallam University’s Early Years Community Research Centre and supported by Save The Children, takes on two-year-olds which parents have said helps them and their child.

Dr Sally Pearse, Director of Sheffield Hallam University’s Early Years Community Research Centre, said: "Children thrive when they come into nursery age two on a free placement rather than having to wait until age three. With that whole extra year, they're getting the advantage of specialist support with their speech and language, emotional and social development. 

“The government could push more of these types of schemes if they wanted to help families on lower incomes, as parents often tell us that this has been the single biggest thing that's helped them, from making a new support network to freeing up space to help them think about training or work."

One dad, 38, whose two-year-old son goes to the nursery, said: “The progress that my son has made in the short time that he has been in the nursery has been amazing. His language development has come on so much, and he is now more sociable with other children when on family outings to the park. 

“Now that my child is getting this free childcare it means that my wife can join other activities like workshops, which is good for my other child too, and I can now look at work opportunities to support my family.”



  • Childcare costs in the UK country are staggering and damaging family finances. With a price tag of around £14,000 a year for a child under two to be looked after full time, it is a struggle for parents and carers to meet these kinds of costs. For families on lower incomes the strain is even greater.  
  • Parents working and receiving Universal Credit can claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs, up to a cap. In theory, this should go a long way towards making childcare affordable for parents and enabling them to work; however, problems with the system mean that, for many families, childcare costs still form a barrier to work and push families into debt and hardship. 
  • If you are eligible, your childcare costs will be included and paid as part of your Universal Credit payment. You will receive up to 85% of the childcare costs you pay, up to a maximum monthly limit of: £646.35 for one child and £1108.04 for two or more children.


For further enquiries please contact:

·       media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409