Poorest two year olds ‘missing out on childcare’

Government policy on childcare comes under scrutiny again as report shows 44% if childcare providers face difficulties over care for disadvantaged two year olds.

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Younger disadvantaged children are losing out on childcare places due to the government’s 30 hours policy for three and four year olds, according to a new report.

The report from the Department for Education looks at local authority provision of children’s services.

It found that 44% of local authorities who replied to its questionnaire had experienced difficulties over the last year in implementing funded early education entitlements for disadvantaged two year olds.

The most commonly reported difficulty local authorities faced was eligible parents not wanting or needing childcare for their two year old, but 38 per cent said that the introduction of the 30 hours funded early education entitlements for three and four year olds of eligible working parents had caused difficulties for the implementation of the disadvantaged two year old offer. Key difficulties mentioned were the capacity of early education providers to offer places for two year olds and financial sustainability.

Moreover, one in five (20%) responding authorities reported difficulties in implementing the universal funded early education entitlements of 15 hours for all three and four year olds.

Two year olds who meet certain criteria, or whose parents are in receipt of some benefits, are entitled to 15 hours a week funded childcare. All three and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 15 hours a week of free early education. Since September 2017 the entitlement was extended to 30 hours free childcare for families where both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family), and each parent earns a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum wage or living wage, and less than £100,000 per year.

The Preschool Learning Alliance said the report showed that disadvantaged children were paying the price for a government policy which was not fully funded. They have long claimed the amount of money the government offers childcare providers does not cover the full costs of care and that providers are having to recoup the money elsewhere or face the risk of closure.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said:  “This report makes clear that the government is failing some of our most disadvantaged children. Everyone agrees that the early years is a vital in ensuring children get the best start in life – but this report shows that children from low income families, who stand to benefit most from childcare, can’t rely on the government to ensure they’re able to access it.

“The fact is that ministers were warned repeatedly that providers would struggle to deliver childcare for younger children following the rollout of 30 hours. They chose to ignore those warnings and continue to do so; this study is just the latest to underline the wider impact that frozen and falling funding levels are having, not only providers but also on the children they are able work with.

“It’s simply not right that the government’s flagship childcare policy has meant wealthy parents are receiving funded childcare while those less well-off are not – particularly if one is at the expense of the other. Providers are passionate about helping all children realise their full potential but, until ministers own up to their responsibilities and ensure funding covers the true cost of providing quality childcare, children from poorer backgrounds will continue to miss out.”

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