Parliamentary debate on almost free childcare in 2025, experts see major objections

NOS

NOS News

  • Anna Mays

    Online editor

  • Francine Intema

    internal editor

  • Anna Mays

    Online editor

  • Francine Intema

    internal editor

Working parents with young children are looking forward to it: From January 2025, the government wants to pay 96 percent of the so-called maximum hourly rate in childcare. This makes childcare almost free for many parents. After the benefits scandal, Rutte IV wants to get rid of the current system and the Minister is sticking to her plan for the time being. But experts see significant objections or even call them useless.

“It is impossible to make childcare almost free in two years,” says economics professor Janicki Plantinga (Utrecht University). “It’s really a shock to the system. We have to stick to the looming point: high-quality childcare for all children. But this is going too fast.”

An important stumbling block is that there is already a shortage of educational staff. Free childcare is expected to increase the demand for childcare, which will exacerbate the staffing shortage. This, in turn, is detrimental to quality.

The childcare branch organization—which does not want childcare to become free for all—is crucial to the plans, in part because of a staffing shortage. “It’s not possible, we already lack a lot of staff,” says manager Emmeline Bijlsma. “And we’re not even talking about new sites, of which we’ll need 268 in Amsterdam alone.”

The growing staff shortage will further strain shelter availability. “This makes the childcare system less inclusive,” says Robin Fukenk, professor by special appointment for childcare at the University of Amsterdam. “Some parents receive childcare, and others end up on a waiting list. Whereas everyone has the same rights and pays for childcare through taxes.”

Pay out of pocket

Professor Plantinga also predicts that the new system will increase inequality of opportunity. The so-called maximum hour plays an important role in this. This is the maximum hourly rate the government will pay 96 percent. Child care facilities are allowed to charge higher rates, but parents must pay anything over the maximum hourly wage.

The lowest earners have already been compensated at 96 percent of the maximum hourly wage. So in that regard, they’re not getting any better in the new system. In fact, they risk paying more, according to SCP. Because upper- and middle-income parents will soon have more money left over, experts worry that childcare providers will allow their rates to rise more than the maximum hourly rate. This would hit low-income parents relatively hard.

“While childcare can mainly contribute to the development of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, it is children who need childcare specifically who are most at risk of being pushed out of the system through this measure,” says Plantinga.

Only from one year?

Therefore the economist is in favor of price regulation. “So that it is impossible to charge hourly rates higher than the maximum hourly rates. Or an indication: then the rate may be increased by a maximum of a certain percentage.” The department has commissioned an investigation into childcare pricing restrictions.

Ensuring low demand could also help reduce shortages, according to the prof. “For example, by not making the fourth or fifth day of the week free.”

Starting childcare later can also help maintain accessibility for older children, says Prof Fokink. “Childcare is very intensive. If you make sure that children only go to childcare from the age of one with parental leave, you can free up many staff and you can provide care for more young children.”

Organizations are hesitant

Practical implementation is also a point of concern. The government wants the government contribution to the new system to go directly to the childcare companies and not through the parent’s account. It is not clear who should lead this in the right direction. The nine government organizations this matter was discussed with are all “conservative”, according to the letter to parliament on regime change.

“If something goes wrong with management, the problems are enormous, and we saw that with the benefits case,” says Galt Gilsma of the Parents’ Interest Association in Child Welfare (Boink). It is considered unrealistic to have such a system up and running before 2025. “Time pressure is getting in the way of accurate implementation,” says Emmeline Bielsma of Save the Children.

According to Loes Ypma of the Branch Association for Children’s Social Welfare, it would be nice if the system became simpler. “Simplification brings the implementation date closer to 2025. And if childcare becomes completely free, low incomes will really benefit and working parents won’t have to shift anything. This also saves a lot of work for childcare and implementing organizations.”

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