Inadequate funding for the government’s flagship 30 hours ‘free childcare’ policy will result in poorer families missing out on places, leading early years organisation the Pre-school Learning Alliance will warn today (Thursday 12 October) at a parliamentary lobby.
Speaking at the event, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, will warn that poor funding rates have meant that some childcare providers are being forced to prioritise places for families that can afford to pay for optional extras over those who can only take up funded hours.
The parliamentary event, which will focus on concerns around the roll-out of the scheme, is being hosted by shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin and will take place in the House of Commons ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on the 30 hours.
In a drafted speech shown to Charity Today News, Neil will say:
“We all talk about the need to improve social mobility, to improve life chances, to close the gap between the poorest children and their peers. So how can it be that the government’s flagship childcare scheme does nothing to address any of these issues?
“If a child’s parents are willing and able to pay their nursery, pre-school, or childminder a bit extra, they might well get pushed to the front of the queue when it comes to a childcare place.
“But if that child’s parents need free childcare to be just that: “free” – tough luck. Because let’s be realistic, if you’re a childcare provider struggling to keep your doors open, and you have three families approaching you willing to pay extra to secure a place, and one that can’t, who wants the offer completely ‘free’– I think we all know who’s going to the back of the queue.
“It’s something we’re seeing more and more. And it’s a real problem.”
Neil will also highlight that a parent earning £99,999 a year would have to work just over two hours a week to be eligible for the 30 hour offer, while a parent that, for example, volunteers or studies but earns less than £120 per week cannot access the offer.
The Alliance’s warning follows a recent report by the Sutton Trust, which found that 30 hours of free childcare could harm social mobility by widening the gap in ‘school-readiness’ between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.
Research from the Resolution Foundation, published in trade publication Nursery World magazine, also warned that the 30 hours policy will save some of the poorest households just £5 per week.
In a recent landmark survey of around 1400 childcare providers conducted by the Alliance, 20% of respondents said that the way they will offer the 30 hours to parents only taking up funded hours will differ from the way they offer parents taking up additional hours and/or paying for extra goods or services, while a further 18% remained unsure.
Respondent comments included:
“I will only be able to offer funded hours to parents taking 40 hours a week and willing to pay for extras. Anything less is unsustainable for my business and would lead to debt and eventual closure.”
“I don’t know how I can provide funded places and still make a living, I don’t want to offer a two-tier system to the children in my care but I may be forced to.”
“We are not able to offer places for children who need funded places only.”