‘Government childcare policies could widen inequality’

Childcare

Child moulds from plasticine on table. Hands with plasticine.

The Government should enhance parental leave for dads and consider the potential adverse impact on equality of offering 30 free hours to children in working families, according to a report by The Sutton Trust.

The report on early education and childcare says neither of the Government’s two flagship childcare policies – the tax-free childcare scheme nor the 30 hour entitlement for working families – are well-designed to promote social mobility and will mean longer hours in state-funded early education for children who are already relatively advantaged, which may be expected to widen gaps in child development at school starting age.

The report puts especial emphasis on the quality of care being offered and calls for more training of staff. It says too many parents are missing out on targeted places for disadvantaged two year olds and that many of the available places for two year olds are not in the highest quality settings. The report also highlights cuts to financial support for parents, including the narrowing of the tax credit system and the freeze on working-age benefits, which are predicted to lead to sharp increases in child poverty in the next five years.

 The report makes several recommendations, including funding to ensure qualified teachers remain in school nursery and reception class and the extension of parental leave policies to give enhanced entitlements for fathers and to ensure that low-income and non-standard workers can take full advantage of them. Steps to increase leave-taking by men through measures such as providing some ‘use it or lose it’ leave and providing some leave time at a higher rate of pay – to increase father involvement and promote greater gender equity – should be a priority, says the report.
It also calls for income support for families with children, particularly those with young children, to be provided at an adequate level and for the Government to consider the potential adverse impact on equality of offering 30 free hours to children in working families and explore how to avoid the policy inadvertently increasing gaps in development at school starting age.


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