Childcare can be a real obstacle course. Especially when there is not enough room for all the toddlers. A study by UFC-Que choisir, unveiled Tuesday and based on 2020 data, warns of "an insufficient and poorly distributed supply" of the main modes of childcare for young children in France: nurseries and childminders.
According to the consumer association, in 2020 there were only 1.3 million places available for 2.2 million children under the age of three. In other words, four out of ten children could not be accommodated. If the UFC-Que choisir recognizes that some parents make the choice to keep their children, "the lack of places in nurseries or childminders is suffered for 37%" of them, while in nearly half of cases, the use of grandparents is "a default solution".
"Abysmal" territorial inequalities
The study points to "particularly glaring inequalities between territories, both in terms of access and in terms of household expenses". In Seine-Saint-Denis, for example, the association counted only 32 places for 100 children under 3 years old, while there are 83 for 100 children in Mayenne. In general, western France is best off with "relatively high coverage rates", while they are "relatively low" in the south.
There are also departmental inequalities regarding the nature of the childcare offer. Childminders are the type of childcare "most common in rural areas and in sparsely populated areas," the study observes. In fact, Paris counted 4.6 places with a childminder in 2020, compared to 64.8 in Mayenne. However, there are very different coverage rates between two departments with comparable densities.
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As for nursery places, the coverage rate is "correlated with the population density" of the department, the association noted. Thus, the rate varies from 10 places per 100 children in Sarthe and 52.7 in Paris. But there are similar "abyssal territorial disparities" in terms of density, the report points out: "There are nearly three times fewer places per 100 children in Seine-Saint-Denis than in Paris."
Families penalized financially
These inequalities have economic consequences on households, warns the UFC-Que choisir. The lack of childcare solutions has "a direct impact on the employment or employability of parents, often mayors", deprived of de facto salary resources.
In addition, the type of supply available affects purchasing power, the association believes: "The rest of the burden is on average systematically higher by using a childminder than a crèche, especially for the most modest households. " As a result, families living in territories with the lowest number of places available in crèches are the most financially penalized, the study points out.
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How to explain such a situation? The UFC-Que choisir first points to a lack of staff, especially because of a "shortage of vocations". In 2020, 241,000 childminders were in practice, "a number that continues to decline after reaching a peak (318,000) in 2012," the study says. In addition, "the prospects are alarming", warns the association: "120,000 childminders are expected to retire by 2030, the equivalent of 480,000 children cared for!"
On the side of nurseries, there is "a massive and trendy decline in the number of places: 100,000 fewer between 2,014 and 2,020". Especially since "the objectives of opening places that had been posted by the authorities for the five-year period 2017-2022 have not been achieved," deplores the UFC-Que choisir, which recalls that "only half of the 30,000 places promised have actually been opened".
Soon a "public service for early childhood"
In conclusion of its report, the UFC-Que Choisir asks the government to "create an enforceable right to a mode of care for young children that is affordable for all and of quality", to simplify assistance to households and to set up a one-stop shop to find a childcare mode.
In June, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne made announcements regarding the opening of a "public service for early childhood" (SPPE), Emmanuel Macron's campaign promise in 2022. The aim is to develop childcare arrangements in the territory by giving more responsibilities, and therefore more financial resources, to municipalities that currently have no compulsory competence in this area. The government has committed to creating 200,000 new crèche places by 2030 (with a first round of 100,000 additional places by 2027). Thus, 5.5 billion euros will be mobilized over 2023-2027.
On the other hand, the Minister of Solidarity, Aurore Bergé, had mentioned in early July the idea of better compensating and shortening parental leave, both too little used and too often reluctantly, according to her, by mothers who would prefer to work but do not have a childcare solution.