Dear Nicky,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m not usually one for politics (I’m too sleep deprived for that) but I have recently been reading up on the proposed nursery places for three and four year olds. I felt that I should write to you to share my views. Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about my situation. I have two wonderful boys; Toby who is 4 and Teddy who is currently 2 but would be 3 and entitled to a nursery place once the proposed changes come in.

Toby is serverly autistic, completely non-verbal and attends a Special School. His autism affects every part of our family life. My husband works very hard as a teacher and loves what he does, however he has recently had to reduce his teaching to four days a week to protect his own health and wellbeing due to the increasing demands of teaching and the stresses of our home life.

I am not currently in paid employment (what most people call “work“) and I do claim carers allowance for my role in looking after Toby. However I do “work“. I work completely unsociable hours through evenings, nights and weekends and I don’t get holidays. I care for Toby with his complex needs and challenging behaviour day and night. Many days start around 1am as he struggles to sleep; despite various medications his brain just doesn’t need as much sleep as ours. He has no awareness of danger and needs constant supervision when awake for his own safety. He climbs over safety gates, tries to let himself out of the house and often needs restraining after becoming very distressed, and due to not being able to communicate lashes out and can be a real danger to himself and others. School holidays are even more challenging than normal as he really struggles without the structure and routine of school. He often becomes very distressed and as he doesn’t speak we can’t discuss these worries and concerns; he often ends up crying at the door for long periods of time and can get so wound up that he becomes very aggressive.

I often think how great it would be to go out to work and have a break from the pressures of home life. Before having the boys I worked as a teaching assistant and loved it, however it’s not practical these days as I need to be in for Toby’s taxi pick ups and drop offs and we regularly have appointments with various professionals who are involved in his care not to mention the lack suitable of child care available for children with additional needs. Also these days I don’t feel that I have the physical or emotional energy anymore to hold down a ‘regular job’; when I’ve been up most of the night dealing with Toby’s meltdowns and trying to stop him waking the rest of the house up I just can’t think straight.  Some days I even struggle to hold a conversation as I’m just so tired and worn out.

It states online that the new childcare provision is for ‘hardworking families’ I find these quite offensive as I believe we are a hardworking family but not in the way that you would measure it (both working 16 hours a week) I work far more than 16 hours a week and I know many other carers who do so too.

As stated above, I do claim carers allowance which is £62.10 a week and the criteria is that you spend 35 hours (or more) per week caring for this person. If we do that maths, based on 35 hours, carers allowance is £1.77 per hour which is a long way away from the £6.70 national minimum wage which would entitle us to childcare provision. I am grateful for carers allowance and completely understand that it is not a wage. However in terms of hours myself and my husband work more than enough hours (16+ each) but as mine is not paid employment at the national minimum wage we would not be entitled to additional childcare under the new scheme.

If I’m honest I probably wouldn’t use all of the thirty hours childcare as I love spending time with my toddler. We love to bake together, play outside and make train tracks with his brio. However some days childcare would be really useful;  when I literally haven’t slept for days and no longer have the energy to give him the stimulation that he needs or days when I’ve got various hospital appointments or visits for Toby who needs one to one attention and supervision – especially when going out.

Teddy our youngest has been going to a private nursery at our local Sure Start for two afternoons a week since after he turned 1 as we wanted him to be around other children and I needed some time to get jobs done and have a rest. He is not entitled to a two year place (for ‘disadvantaged’ children) and so we have funded these hours ourselves. Personally I would argue that he’s a disadvantaged child due to our home background, the poor role model that his brother is (in terms of behaviour and communication) and I also feel that due to Toby’s needs Ted often misses out. He may not be disadvantaged in terms of family income but in other areas he is disadvanged compared to his peers.

I understand that every family and every case is different but I would ask that you consider additional criteria such as  children’s home background and challenges as it isn’t just as black and white as income and hours worked when looking at childcare. This would be for provision for two year olds and three and four year olds. I would also ask that the government doesn’t take for granted the thousands of carers across the county who do a fantastic job and are the backbone to the care system. They work behind the scenes and although this isn’t paid employment, this county would be lost without them. I do understand that not everyone who claims carers allowance would benefit from childcare, however in our case having missed out on a two year place and additional hours for three and four year olds we feel the government should rethink how it supports carers across the country. Providing childcare for carers would show how much the govenment values the role that carers do and would most definitely improve the health and wellbeing of carers right across the country, allowing them to continue doing the vital jobs that they do.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Yours Sincerely

Rachel Shepherd