Home: News

Student nurses ‘excluded’ from Jeremy Hunt’s free childcare

Expansion of the free childcare scheme is supposed to help struggling families, but there are still barriers for trainees

Anita Mureithi
15 March 2023, 12.55pm

UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt leaves Downing Street with the despatch box to present his spring Budget to parliament on March 15, 2023 in London, England


Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Student nurses have been shut out of Jeremy Hunt's £4bn free childcare package because they can’t earn enough to be eligible while working unpaid placements, a trainee has told openDemocracy.

Isabelle Roters, a second-year nursing student at Salford University and a mother of three, was on the verge of quitting her degree last year due to the financial strain of losing her childcare support.

Parents of children aged three and four in England were already entitled to 30 hours of free childcare, provided they work at least 16 hours a week at the national living wage. Today, the chancellor extended this to cover children over the age of nine months.

But Roters says this still leaves a barrier for parents whose degrees require them to carry out unpaid placements – including nursing students.

Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19

The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.

Speaking to openDemocracy about the Budget announcement, Roters said: “Fair enough if I was doing a degree where I was at home a lot of the time and I didn't have to have childcare. But I have to have childcare to go to placement to be able to get the degree, so that’s the issue. It’d be great if there was some provision there.”

Roters juggles childcare, her unpaid nursing placement, studying and a second paid job. But the hours she must spend at her placement make it impossible to earn enough to meet the free childcare eligibility requirement of earning £1,976 over three months.

Having to fork out for childcare has taken a toll on her and her family, who now find it difficult to heat their home.

“I'm literally drowning in bills,” she said. “My husband is a veteran, and he's also a paramedic. He works hard, and I’ve got a difficult job. And it just feels like repeated slaps in the face from the government.

“It’s hard. It's a constant struggle every day to not quit. It constantly just feels like a thankless task.”

Seeing people drop out of her course has shocked Roters. “People [have been] dropping like flies,” she said.

“Every day is a struggle to not drop out. The money situation is so, so hard.

“It affects your mental health as well. You just feel used and abused after it all… I’m not a fan at all of the fact that you literally have to work for free to prove that you can be something.”

Recent data from Freedom of Information requests sent by openDemocracy to several universities has revealed that the number of nursing students dropping out before the end of their degrees is on the rise.

Across a sample size of nine universities in England, Scotland and Wales, nursing school dropouts have more than doubled, with a rise from 364 in the 2018/19 intake, to 828 in the 2021/22 intake.

Applications to study nursing have also fallen by more than a quarter in the past two years, from 46,040 to 33,570, according to the most recent figures by UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).

Sam Moffat, a third-year nursing student and a member of the Royal College of Nursing, told openDemocracy that pressures on the NHS have impacted staff morale, including for student nurses.

“The [pressure] has impacted the amount of time you can spend with patients… Staff morale is really affected because we can’t provide the care that we want to. We want to do the intimate stuff and the things that really help us create a bond with our patients. But we don’t have time to do it. So you leave your shift feeling like… I could have done more there.”

For Sam, the lack of staff is a huge issue. “There’s not enough of us. And there aren’t backup plans in place to help us when there's not enough of us.

“It's almost impossible to go into work and have a shift where everything goes right. It happens. But it’s rare, just because you don't have the staff to facilitate that.”

James Hallwood, the head of policy and external affairs at the Council of Deans of Health, added: “The cost-of-living crisis has impacted all students, but nursing students can be particularly vulnerable given the contact hours and placements that limit the options many others have to supplement their studies with paid employment.

“Many nursing students are from widening participation backgrounds, including a significant number of mature students, so the current economic climate can especially affect these cohorts.

“While our members are doing all they can to support their nursing students, the possibility of a wider impact on the future of the UK’s healthcare workforce from the cost-of-living crisis should be a moment for Westminster and the devolved administrations to further consider what additional support can be offered.”

The Treasury told openDemocracy student nurses “can access childcare support through NHS bursaries”, to cover “up to 85% of costs”.

Ukraine's fight for economic justice

Russian aggression is driving Ukrainians into poverty. But the war could also be an opportunity to reset the Ukrainian economy – if only people and politicians could agree how. The danger is that wartime ‘reforms’ could ease a permanent shift to a smaller state – with less regulation and protection for citizens.
Our speakers will help you unpack these issues and explain why support for Ukrainian society is more important than ever.

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData