My son turns three over the Christmas period. It’s a significant milestone for families these days because it’s the age at which all children receive up to 15 hours of government-funded childcare each week.
Potentially, it should save my household around £200 a month – or so I thought.
The letter from his pre-school, a registered charity, confirming his free place also included a message asking for a “voluntary” top-up payment of around £5 a session. It transpires that the pre-school finds itself faced with a funding shortfall created by the government’s childcare scheme. Essentially, the money the pre-school receives for free places from the local council does not cover its running costs and, therefore, it asks parents to make up the difference.
It’s a reasonable request – we are, after all, the direct beneficiaries of the excellent service the charity provides. Yet I found myself becoming enraged. Why do I have to top up a government scheme after having paid my taxes for years, I asked myself, and why does the charity’s running costs exceed its government grant?
None of these details were included in the letter. Instead, the core message read along the lines of “pay up, or the pre-school might close”.
I’m sympathetic to the charity’s plight. In the past, my wife has baked cakes for fun days, and I’ve bought raffle tickets and given sponsorship money to help fund its work. But, equally, I wonder whether the default position of the charity is to simply ask service users’ families for more money when finances are tight. Should it not instead explore options such as asking the church hall where the pre-school is based to reduce the rent, or encourage parents to lobby the local council to provide more money to fund free childcare places? And what about staffing costs – have these become too unsustainable?
These are the types of questions that large and small charities need to make donors aware that they’ve tried to address before asking for additional money. I for one would be more willing to give if I knew that all other options had been explored and I wasn’t just the first port of call in a storm.