Island Parents Missing Out on Support 

The Manx gov’s support for childcare falls well short of what is being offered in England, Scotland and Wales.

Some families might even be entitled to funding that would cover almost twice as much childcare for three-four-year-olds if they lived in England, compared with here.

A draft strategy to address a number of concerns about childcare provision – some of which have been debated by Tynwald for years – shows that on the most fundamental level of affordability for parents, the Isle of Man does not compare well.

The strategy authors admit: ‘The Isle of Man’s current offer is therefore lagging behind England and Wales and, to an extent, Jersey and Guernsey, at a time where attracting key skills and young families is a strategic priority.’

The differences are laid bare in an appendix at the back of the draft strategy.

In terms of universal funding of childcare for three-four-year-olds, the IoM provides a credit of £3,420 per year, which equates to 16 hours per week. We checked with the Education Dept and this is based on 38 weeks per year, working along term times.

It works out at £342 paid per month for those children who attend in term time, dropping to £228 in December, April and July, and no payment in August. For those attending all year round the payments come at £285 per month.

At first glance, this is similar to England, where universal funding is available for 15 hours per week, for 38 weeks in the year.

But that funding coverage in England doubles to 30 hours per week if the family is in work, meets certain criteria and earns below £100,000.

Here in the Isle of Man there is no means-tested extra funding, except for those entitled under the Employed Persons’ Allowance, but the report notes the earning threshold for that is ‘much lower than means-tested additional childcare in other jurisdictions’.

In Wales, there is universal funding for 10 hours per week during school terms and an additional 20 hours per week means-tested on the same criteria as England.

In Scotland, there is universal funding of 1,140 hours per year, which equates to about 30 hours per week in term time.

Jersey offers 30 hours per week in term time, while Guernsey offers 15 hours per week for families with income below £150,000.

One of the stated key aims of the strategy is to make childcare ‘affordable for all’.

The draft strategy talks of mitigating the financial burden of childcare and making it affordable for all within six months. The action to do this would be to: ‘Consult with Treasury on options to make childcare more affordable for all, including additional support for working families and any options to provide flexible or staggered support during early years.’

Surveys have revealed ‘significant gaps’ in provision particular for children aged two and under, the report says

There are also ‘acute problems’ finding suitable childcare settings for children with additional educational needs.

Other issues include the lack of legislation for shared parental leave and the island does not ‘provide the requirement for statutory maternity pay’.

A knock-on effect of the difficulties that parents face is the impact on their work options.

The draft strategy sets out two main ‘pillars’: putting the child first and ensuring every parent has a choice.

It places the need for action leading to greater support for children with additional needs within a one-year timeframe, with a call to ‘investigate the business case for an inclusion fund to allow increased pre-school credit to support children who may require interventions, one-to-one support, access to an outreach team and/or additional resources’.

A longer term (three years) suggestion is to ‘consider the case for the creation of a complex needs nursery sith specialist staff’.

The report also calls for an investigation into how to further help low-income families access funded childcare from the age of two.

The strategy aims for ‘early identification and safeguarding’ of those with adverse childhood experiences, through contact with registered childcare providers.

In terms of improving choice, it wants an investigation of the demand for any services not currently available, including location and wraparound care, particularly for under-twos.

A review of the financial support available to childcare providers may enable them to expand their offerings, it says.

Another aim would be to provide ‘physical infrastructure’ to enable childcare providers to expand, especially in areas where provision is lacking. It suggests a ‘review of land and premises in regional hubs suitable for childcare provision’.

Pre-school provision and childcare has been a hot topic dating back a decade to when the Education Department, under the then minister Peter Karran, scrapped its teacher-led state preschools attached to 11 different primary schools, in a move that provoked outrage.

Previous ministers said the argument put forward that because state provision was not universal it was unfair, ignored the fact that those state facilities were targeted in areas of greatest need and the aim was always to increase provision across the island

In 2020, Dr Alex Allinson, Julie Edge’s predecessor as Education Minister, said there was no plan to go back to pre-school services being provided by the state.

He pointed to the pre-school credit system, which in that year stood at £3,420 per year, the same figure as now.

The creation of this draft strategy follows a presentation to Tynwald in 2019, which itself followed recommendations from a social affairs policy committee report.

These recommendations included greater choice for parents and that the Treasury ‘should review legislation, policy and practice on parental leave and report to Tynwald with recommendations’.

Many of those recommendations appear to have been moved onto this new strategy for action, although a call for an extension of pre-school credit to apply to childminders was acted upon in 2019.

The consultation on the childcare strategy is due to go live early next week. You can view a copy of the draft report here.

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