Families face lack of affordable childcare places

Joe Lepper
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Families face a struggle to find affordable childcare provision due to a hike in prices and lack of 30 hours free entitlement places, an annual survey of councils has revealed.

The cost of childcare for children under two has risen by seven per cent in the space of a year. Picture: Family and Childcare Trust
The cost of childcare for children under two has risen by seven per cent in the space of a year. Picture: Family and Childcare Trust

The Family and Childcare Trust's 2018 survey of councils has revealed that the average price of a 25-hours-a-week place for a child under the age of two has increased by seven per cent to £122 a week since 2017.

This is more than double the current consumer price index's annual rate of inflation of three per cent.  

Since 2017 the cost of 25-hours-a-week provision for a child aged two has increased by six per cent to £119, the survey also found.

Working parents of children aged three and four are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare a week. But the survey of local provision found just half of councils are reporting they have enough 30 hours childcare places.

The Family and Childcare Trust said families on low incomes with children aged under three are among the hardest hit as they are not receiving any additional support this year through tax-free childcare.

Families in central London face the highest childcare bill in the UK for a 25-hours-a-week place for a child under the age of two, at £184 a week, or £9,500 a year.

The cheapest region in the country is the North West of England where the price is £102 a week, or £5,300 a year.

To improve access to affordable provision the trust is urging the government to hand out grants to childcare providers to boost the number of places.

The trust also wants to see the 30 hours offer extended to parents undertaking training.

It also wants the 30 hours initiative to be closely monitored, along with tax free childcare, to see what impact it is having on childcare prices and whether it is helping parents into work.

"Childcare is as vital as the rails and roads, it supports parents to work, boosts children's outcomes and provides our economy with a reliable workforce. Too many parents remain locked out of work by high childcare costs and low availability," said Family and Childcare Trust chief executive Ellen Broomé.

"New government investment is welcome, but this year's childcare price surge shows that without root and branch reform, many families will be left just treading water."

Pre-school Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said that providers are being forced to increase fees due to a lack of funding from central government.

"For years now, childcare funding has failed to match the cost of delivering places, forcing many early years providers to increase parent fees to plug this funding shortfall," said Leitch.

"The introduction of the 30 hours has only served to exacerbate this problem and so it's absolutely no surprise that parents - and especially those with younger children, many of whom aren't eligible for 'free entitlement' schemes - are seeing significant childcare cost increases."

"Free childcare is a great idea in principle, but if a lack of adequate funding means that in reality, parents are facing higher costs or a struggle to find places, then something has gone seriously wrong."

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board added: "Councils remain concerned that the funding levels available for the free entitlements are not sufficient, which could potentially lead to fewer providers offering places, reduced quality, or increased costs for children using hours outside of the entitlements."

Earlier this month children's minister Nadhim Zahawi conceded that the 30 hours free childcare offer faces "challenges".

Speaking in response to the survey findings, he said: "Thousands of families are accessing high-quality, affordable childcare and the most pleasing finding in the Family and Childcare Trust's report is that parents are now spending less of their wages on that childcare as a result of the steps this government has taken.

"There are always challenges when implementing any new policy but we are investing record amounts in childcare - around £6bn a year by 2020 - and are working with the sector, which has responded well to the 30-hour rollout to address them.

"Our 15 hours offer for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds is giving these children access to early education and we know that take-up of this offer is increasing."

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