Parents with higher incomes are more likely to benefit from free childcare than those in the most deprived areas, according to a government report.
The 2014-2015 survey in the Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents series, funded by the Department for Education and carried out by Ipsos MORI, shows a higher family annual income was associated with a higher likelihood of using formal childcare and that parents with children aged three to four, who qualify for 15 hours’ free childcare, were most likely to use formal childcare. Children in dual-working couple families, and children in working lone-parent families, were most likely to receive formal childcare.
Usage of formal childcare was progressively less widespread as area deprivation levels increased; 65 per cent of children living in the least deprived areas received formal childcare, compared with 49 per cent of children living in the most deprived areas. There have been no changes in uptake of formal childcare by area deprivation level since the last survey in 2012-13.
Take-up of free childcare was 99% for four year olds, 81% for three year olds was 81% and among
54% for two year olds, the first time the latter has been measured. Some 87% of eligible children were getting free childcare, with 99% of four year olds getting this, 94% of three year olds and just 58% of two year olds.
The report found 79 per cent of all families in England with children aged 0 to 14 had used some form of childcare during their most recent term-time week. Two in three families had used formal childcare and early years provision and 40 per cent had used informal childcare provided by friends and family. Over a quarter had used both formal and informal childcare. The report says this pattern of childcare usage has remained unchanged since the last survey in 2012-13.
The main reason children were in childcare was to enable parents to work or study – around three in five were in childcare for this reason, but social and educational reasons were almost as common. Around a quarter were there to enable parents to look after other children, socialise or do housework.
Just under half of families with school-aged children (aged 5-14) used childcare during school holidays. Some 62 per cent of parents of school age children who worked during holidays reported that it was very easy or easy to arrange childcare during the holiday periods, but 21 per cent reported that it was difficult or very difficult to arrange.
The number of parents who rated their childcare provision as good or fairly good has gone up from 58% in 2012/13 to 64%. However, nearly three in 10 said there were not enough places. Just under half of parents said the amount of information available to them about childcare in their local area was ‘about right’.
Two in five parents rated the affordability of local childcare as very or fairly good, but a third said affordability was very or fairly poor. Just over half of parents said it was fairly or very easy to meet their childcare costs, with 22% of families finding it fairly or very difficult to pay – a fall
from 27% in 2012-13.
Two thirds of mothers were in employment, around the same as in 2012-13. Around half of non-working mothers agreed that they would prefer to go out to work if they could arrange good quality
childcare which was convenient, reliable and affordable.
Among mothers who had returned to work in the previous two years, the most commonly reported factor that had influenced their return to work was finding a job that enabled them to combine work and childcare. Almost half of working mothers said that having reliable childcare helped them to go out to work.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “The report raises a number of concerns not least that the use of free entitlement rose by income; only 80% of families earning below £10,000 per year are receiving it, compared to 94% of families earning £45,000 or more. Additionally, only 54% of eligible 2-year-olds are in receipt of government funded early education.
“This raises questions about why this take-up is not higher, and suggests that providers in areas of deprivation are struggling to meet the needs of parents because they simply cannot afford to. Indeed, the report highlights that usage of formal childcare fell as area deprivation levels rose.”