Government childcare and early years policies are having a detrimental impact on disadvantaged and low-income families across England, a group of leading social mobility, early years and children’s charities have jointly warned.
In a joint letter published in the Guardian today
, the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the Sutton Trust, Gingerbread, Child Poverty Action Group, Action for Children, Children England, National Children’s Bureau and Family Action have all voiced concerns about the impact of the flagship 30-hour and tax-free childcare schemes on lower-income families. The joint letter also calls on the government to provide clarity on its children’s centre strategy.
The letter says: “We are concerned that the government’s approach to childcare policy is at risk of undermining its social mobility ambitions.
“Its flagship 30-hours scheme represents a unique opportunity to support working families in accessing quality, affordable childcare. However, survey findings from the Pre-school Learning Alliance suggest that to remain financially viable, a significant proportion of early-years providers have had to introduce or increase additional charges – and, in some cases, prioritise places for those families able to pay for extras. This means that working families on the lowest incomes are at risk of missing out.
“The eligibility criteria for both this scheme and the tax-free childcare offer also seem wholly at odds with the government’s social mobility agenda, with parents earning less than the equivalent of 16 hours a week at minimum or living wage unable to benefit, while couples who together earn just under £200,000 in total remain eligible.”
It also calls for the government to provide greater clarity on how it intends to maintain the provision of children’s centres following sustained funding cuts.
Dr Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said: “Good quality early years education is a vital opportunity to narrow attainment gaps that can be stark for poorer children by the age of five. But our own research has found that the government’s flagship 30 hours childcare policy is unlikely to provide this.
“It is understandable that the government wants to improve access to childcare for working parents. But this must not be at the expense of good early education for disadvantaged children. Focusing on getting it right for the poorest two and three year-olds would make a much bigger difference to social mobility, by improving their chances at school and in later life.”