CHILDCARE AND EARLY EDUCATION SYSTEMS: A comparative literature review of liberal welfare states

We know that the current childcare and early education system in England does not work for women – both as mothers, and as part of the undervalued early years workforce - nor for children, at a fundamental time in their development.  

Our report, Childcare and Early Education Systems, sponsored by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the Pavers Foundation, compares the childcare and early education systems of England and five other liberal welfare states - Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland.  

We highlight and compare the key features of each system and the literature on women's labour market participation and child development outcomes for each country, gathering creative solutions to the issues we face in England. 

  • Read our report, Childcare and Early Education Systems here

Our key findings show: 

  • Other countries have recently or are currently innovating and reforming their childcare systems, partly in response to the pandemic – whilst England has not done so since 2017. 
  • Wages for early years staff in England are the lowest among these six countries. 
  • Valuing the workforce, including high staff qualification levels and good child-staff ratios, produces better outcomes for children and mitigates potential risks to development from long hours of childcare / expansion of services - as seen in Japan and New Zealand.  
  • In all five other countries, parents with lower incomes pay less for childcare, whilst in the UK we see the opposite pattern - two-parent households with the lowest income pay the most. 
  • Affordable childcare increases women's labour market participation significantly e.g., this is strongly evidenced in Quebec, Canada, where daily low flat childcare fees were introduced in the late 1990s. 
  • Public spending on childcare in the UK is lowest among the countries in this review, bar Switzerland. And yet these other countries also fall short on public spending themselves, in worldwide comparisons. 

The report also identifies the best aspects of international childcare systems, providing food for thought for policymakers in England: 

  • New Zealand staggers funding for childcare providers to incentivise and resource greater proportions of highly qualified staff. The country also offers free hours of childcare all-year-round to support working parents, in contrast to the term-time-only offer seen in England. 
  • In Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, fee subsidies go straight to the childcare provider, meaning that parents are not out of pocket. This contrasts with the English reimbursement system within Universal Credit, which also does not sufficiently cover costs for parents. 
  • Japan utilises public spaces during their closed hours to achieve wider availability for its family programme, which is similar to SureStart in the UK. 
  • New Zealand uniquely offers hospital-based childcare for young children who are patients. 
  • In Quebec, rather than focussing on universal free entitlements the system provides $10 per day childcare for all – which numerous studies have found results in significant increases in mothers’ participation in the labour market. 

Get involved 

Your voice has power! 

  • Use our digital toolkit to share the findings and join the conversation on social media here.
  • Sign up to be a member of Fawcett and support us to reform the childcare system in the UK.
  • Read our previous research reports here.

18th August 2022 Correction: An error on p. 13 of the report referred to employer-provided childcare as more common in Australia; this has been amended to refer to New Zealand.