As the mum of two small children, the cost of childcare is very much a hot topic in our household.

This month alone, we’ll pay £1,500 for our three-year-old son to go to nursery four days a week – and these fees are due to be increased in September.

This has happened every year since he started and it’s made me increasingly angry, especially when keyworkers at the nursery have left in droves over the past few months due to low pay.

Only last month I had to make a formal complaint when I arrived to pick up my son and there was only one member of staff in the room with 13 children. My concerns over safety and quality have risen as quickly as our fees.

As such, we’ve postponed the place we had secured for our youngest son in August and I’ll take a hit on my income to keep him at home longer. As a freelancer, I’m lucky that I have this as an option, but it will still be a difficult juggle in the meantime and put extra pressure on our family financially.

Such rising costs are becoming too much for many families, and according to analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), nursery fees are now £2,000 ayear higher than they were in 2010. This makes Britain’s childcare sector the second most expensive in the world. 

So, like many parents, I’ve been keen to hear how the current Tory leadership candidates plan to tackle the childcare crisis and its priority in their manifestos.

Sadly, the Conservative Party has shown time and time again that childcare is not a priority. Boris Johnson, woefully out of touch with real life, believed that being able to spend state-funded childcare vouchers on activity classes like ‘Tumble Tots’ might solve the issue. 

He also launched an ongoing consultation in June that proposes changing staff-to-child ratios in nurseries. This would mean that each key worker would look after five two-year-olds instead of four as currently permitted in order to make a £40 a week saving. A meagre amount that involves putting the safety of small children at risk.

Candidates such as Liz Truss look set to follow in Boris’s footsteps with Truss previously pushing for even greater relaxations of ratios – something she’s advocated for for many years. 

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak has also had plenty of opportunity to address childcare costs but has fallen short. In March, he was heavily criticised for failing to tackle the rising cost of childcare and early years funding in his Spring Statement.

At a time when there is so much opportunity and need for change and reform, it feels so infuriating that these politicians remain so short-sighted. The only glimmer of hope has come from equalities minister Kemi Badenoch who has talked a lot about how she plans on improving things in the Early Years sector.

Ranked by YouGov poll as second favourite in the leadership race, Badenoch has acknowledged the financial pressure childcare costs put on working families and said that as Prime Minister, she would actively seek to slash costs.

But how would she do this? First of all, she claims that she would get rid of business rates for all nurseries in a huge boost to her emergency cost of living budget – something that campaigners like Pregnant Then Screwed have been asking the government to do for a while.

Badenoch has also promised to ‘remove the rules and bureaucracy surrounding childcare’ in an attempt to bring more people into the profession. This will be particularly aimed at childminders whose numbers are reported to have fallen from 102,000 in 1992 to 38,800 in 2019.

While important DBS checks and insurance would remain under her leadership, she wants to remove the expensive set up costs and red tape thought to be some of the reasons deterring childminders from the sector. 

While this sounds OK on paper, making it easier to become a childminder sets alarm bells ringing and raises concerns that this is just another way to reduce quality of care. As a parent, I’m not convinced the wellbeing of children is at the heart of this idea.

So, what else does Badenoch have up her sleeve? In case you hadn’t thought of it before, she suggests that grandparents, aunts and uncles should be incentivised to help look after little ones in the family.

A suggestion that I’m sure will fall flat in many households that already rely on grandparents and extended family members to take care of their children.

Other parents, such as myself, live hundreds of miles away from grandparents and aunts and uncles. And what about those who just don’t have that support network at all? This proposal would have little to no impact on families like mine whose parents already try to help as much as they can while still working in full-time jobs.

While I would like to believe Badenoch would make a big difference to the childcare crisis, I am not filled with hope. 

To really make a change that will benefit families, children and the economy we need to look at other countries such as Sweden who invest in their early years providers, while respecting and valuing the workforce that runs it. Or Canada who has pledged to invest C$30 billion in a system that will cost parents just $10 a day. For every dollar invested, the economy is set to get back between $1.50 and $2.80.

As far as I can see, Badenoch’s plans look better than those of her competitors, but they still involve watering down a system that is already on its knees. Our children deserve quality childcare and decent funding, not short-sighted money-saving plans that put their needs last.

So, like many working mums, I am going to have to think long and hard about what the best childcare options are for my youngest son moving forward. 

If ratio numbers are to be stretched and nursery fees just keep rising, it seems better to keep him at home for as long as I can possibly make it work. In the short term this would have to do, but in the long-term it will impact my career, my personal finances and my son’s social development.

High quality early childhood education is proven to give children the best start in life, providing important opportunities to learn and develop. I fear that if it is left to a Tory government, it will continue to fall apart at the seams.

As Nelson Mandela famously said, ‘the true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children’ and sadly the current government is showing little sign of changing.