‘Free’ childcare does not provide more, but actually fewer equal opportunities for poorer children, SCP warns

Almost free childcare: it sounds good, but it doesn’t do anything. This is the conclusion from the Social and Cultural Planning Office about one of the cabinet’s most important plans. It is unusual for the agency to be so openly critical of the government.

In the coalition agreement of Rutte IV, it is agreed that the reimbursement of childcare will be increased in stages to 96 percent. It should make it affordable for more parents to send their children to childcare. In this way, equal opportunities for children are increased, and more parents will go to work, is the government’s idea.

SCP is seriously in doubt

Social Affairs Minister Karien van Gennip has now drawn up a new scheme, she hopes, with which the daily allowance that parents receive for looking after children can disappear from 2025. The plans for ‘free’ childcare will ultimately cost 2 billion euros per year.

The Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) only has serious doubts about this new regulation. It is expensive and gives little to nothing, says SCP researcher Anne Roeters to EenVandaag. It does not provide more opportunities for poorer children and parents will no longer work because of it, concludes the planning office.

Rare criticism

It is unusual for SCP to be so critical of government policy in public. Roeters wrote a so-called knowledge note about the new care scheme, which was addressed to Minister Van Gennip, among other things.

Normally, these kinds of notes are shared behind the scenes so that ministers can use them, for example, in preparation for the Council of Ministers. This time, SCP has put the knowledge note online because the Ministry of Social Affairs did not seem to take the criticism seriously.

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Opposite effect

“There are important question marks about the purpose and effectiveness of this (expensive) policy,” the planning office writes in the memo. With the new scheme, the government wants to ensure that more children go into care in order to promote equal opportunities. But the plans have the opposite effect, SCP warns.

“Affluent parents benefit enormously, while children of the working poor do not enter childcare any faster,” explains researcher Roeters. “The goal of fighting child care arrears has been completely abandoned.”

No more for grandpa and grandma

Another important goal of the policy – to get more parents into work – will not be achieved with the new scheme either, says the planning office. “Parents will cancel grandpa’s and grandma’s daycare days and send the kids to daycare more often,” says Roeters. “Parents no longer go to work because of it.”

“Cheaper childcare is not an incentive to get people to work more,” Roeters concludes. In addition, childcare will become more expensive because of the plans, SCP expects. “Due to the increasing demand, the price increases and this can make childcare even less accessible to parents with less money.”

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Higher rates

All parents will soon have to pay 4 percent of childcare costs. However, the government has set a maximum on the amount reimbursed, while childcare organizations set their own rates. These rates may therefore be higher than the maximum refund.

Low-income households already pay a maximum of 4 percent of childcare costs. “Because the demand for childcare will increase, rates will be higher, and people on low incomes will eventually pay more than they do now,” explains SCP researcher Roeters.

Also pay attention to quality

Finally, the Social and Cultural Planning Office is also concerned about the quality of childcare. There are already long waiting lists, and if children attend care more often, but there are too few staff, it will not be good for the quality of care.

“Experience from the past shows that if there is an explosion of children who attend extra care, the quality comes under pressure,” says Roeters. “If the waiting lists get even longer, there will be more work pressure on the employees, and fewer activities will be organized for, for example, the children.”

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