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Over 16,000 parents who are eligible for 30 hours free childcare for three and four year olds have not been able to find a place for their child, according to new Government figures.
The figures show that, since August, 216,384 parents have registered for the 30 hours and have been issued with a code, showing they are eligible. However only 200,372 have have that code validated by a childcare provider who has a place available.
The Government says this shows 93% of eligible parents are benefitting from the free childcare.
However, critics say they are concerned given autumn term is usually the quietest one for providers. The Preschool Learning Alliance wants to know if there are particular geographical areas which are having problems with provision.
Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: “When 30 hours first launched, there were huge variations between the national average for validated codes, at 71%, and the worst performing local authorities, where as few as 14% of parents had managed to have their codes validated. That’s clearly not acceptable. Parents have the right to know they’re not subject to a postcode lottery and government should be clear about where this policy is and isn’t working.
“We know many providers across the country are struggling to provide 30 hours and still balance the books. What we don’t know, and what these numbers also aren’t telling us, is how many of those parents accessing the 30 hours have actually been able to find a truly ‘free’ place, and how many are being forced to pick up the government’s tab and subsidise their children’s childcare.”
Meanwhile, children’s charities are campaigning for foster children to be included in the 30 hours offering. Thirteen organisations, including Become and Action for Children, have written a letter to The Guardian calling for the exclusion of foster children from the additional 15 hours’ free care to be reversed, saying it is discriminatory. The letter says: “Fostered children must have access to the same opportunities as other children. Moreover, foster carers are, as a group, unpaid or underpaid and often cannot rely on their fostering income. They may therefore benefit from this extra childcare, especially those who foster members of their family and those providing long-term care.”