Study highlights shortage of childcare places

By Jess Brown

| 24 February 2016

Almost half of local authorities in England do not have enough childcare places for working parents, it has emerged.

Almost half of councils cannot meet demand for childcare places. Picture: Paul Cousans

A survey of 197 of councils across England, Wales and Scotland by the Family and Childcare Trust (Fact) found that only 45 per cent of councils in England reported having enough childcare for parents working full-time, slightly up on the 43 per cent of councils last year.

In terms of England, where free childcare provision is due to be extended next year from 15 to 30 hours a week, a total of 59 councils said that they do not have enough places for three- and four-year-olds in their area. This has increased from 23 councils last year.

The survey also found that only 15 per cent of councils in England had enough childcare places for disabled children, compared with 21 per cent in 2015.

And only seven per cent of councils reported feeling able to provide sufficient childcare for parents with typical working hours, compared with 15 per cent in 2015.

Fact said an estimated 41,300 three-year-olds are currently missing out on their free early education.

“Unless these problems are addressed urgently, they will jeopardise the success of the extension to free early education in 2017, limit the effectiveness of other government support and prevent families from moving into work and out of poverty,” the report states.

Julia Margo, chief executive of Fact, said she is “very concerned” that three-year-olds are missing out on free childcare before the government’s extension to 30 hours. 

“Extra free childcare is of no use to working parents if they can’t find a place for their child," she said.

"To make childcare really work for parents, we want to see the right to an early education place brought in line with the right to a school place,” she said.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the problem will get worse after the 30-hour expansion comes into effect.

"It is extremely concerning that local councils are increasingly struggling to provide sufficient funded places," he said.

"This is a problem that will only worsen with the roll-out of the 30-hour scheme. Parents were promised quality, affordable, accessible childcare – the government must work with, not against, the sector if it is to deliver on this promise."

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said that the shortages could be resolved by using places in private and voluntary nurseries.

“All types of childcare provision need to work together to make sure funded childcare works for families,” she said.

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