Nurseries in Buckinghamshire are ‘struggling’ for space as the government expands its subsidised childcare, experts have warned.

A ‘childcare crisis’ has been reported across the country as nurseries have shut down due to the pandemic, while those still operating have struggled to attract staff.

Long waiting lists for childcare have also been reported by parents, with many waiting months or even years to find somewhere to look after their children.

Last month, the government rolled out the first part of its expanded subsidised nursery provision – or what it calls ‘free childcare’.

This means that eligible working parents can now get:

  • 30 hours of childcare support a week for three and four-year-olds, which already existed
  • 15 hours of childcare support a week for two-year-olds from April 2024
  • 15 hours of childcare support a week for nine-month-olds from 2024 (applications open on May 12)
  • 30 hours childcare support a week for all under-fives from 2025

To be eligible, most parents must individually earn more than £9,518 a year but less than £100,000, although this changes for those on certain benefits.

However, parents and childcare workers in Bucks have warned that the expanded subsidies will increase the existing pressures on nurseries.

“It is a massive issue at the minute that has taken the UK by storm,” says Georgia Allen, a local nursery worker recruiter, “I think people are worried about what it is going to do to their settings.”

Georgia works for Tinies Buckinghamshire, which provides highly qualified staff to nurseries across the county. The franchise is part of a UK-wide company, which also runs a nanny agency.

The expert thinks the new subsidies for childcare could place a greater demand on nurseries to accommodate more children.

She told the Bucks Free Press: “It is going to be a struggle for the nurseries because they are going to have an influx of people from September. I can just imagine that it is going to be a tough one and hard for them all.

“There are already waiting lists for nurseries – even without the free childcare – especially if it is a good nursery. Some of them have a year’s waiting list. Generally, nurseries always have a waiting list, and it is going to get bigger.”

The government has claimed that extending childcare subsidies will help parents go back to work.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “No one should have to choose between having a career and having a family, so I’m determined that every parent who wants it should have access to the childcare they need.”

However, some parents are still finding it tricky to go back to work even with the additional subsidies, in part because government funding falls short of the real cost of nursery places.

One nursery on the Bucks border with London charges £1,840 a month for children under three.

A dad in Iver Heath told the Bucks Free Press that lots of parents and grandparents he knows ‘can’t afford or justify going back to work’.

The resident, who runs a local charity, also discussed the tough nature of childcare and the low salaries of the work.

He said: “I know two childminders. Neither are part of the funded scheme because it is below their current hourly rate and requires them to do more admin.

“So, there is less time with the child for less money. There is a lack of affordable childcare because it is low pay, so it isn’t attracting new talent in or retaining those currently there.”

Georgia also addressed the staffing issues faced by nurseries and the challenging conditions for childcare workers.

She said: “There are gaps all over for nurseries needing staff and not being able to fill them. It is not the best paid job – it is like the care sector. You have to want to do it.

“The government changed the guidelines in 2024, meaning that a lot of people were left with qualifications that are no longer relevant.”

Another nursery worker commenting on the impact of the subsidies said: “I think we will realise the true impact after September 2025.”

The industry insider, based near the Bucks border with London, also raised concerns about nurseries having enough staff.

She said: “It is really hard to recruit newly qualified staff and with more places getting taken they don’t seem to be tackling the issue with a lack of good, qualified staff.

“It is so poorly paid for the work. We look after children with serious health conditions which needs to be reflected in pay. No one wants the job because of the pay.”