A scheme giving families free childcare could force nurseries in deprived areas to close if it doesn’t receive more funding, concerned councillors have told The Big Issue.
The government’s flagship 30 hours initiative, which gives 30 hours of funded childcare to parents who work at least 16 hours a week, has put services under severe financial pressure and risks driving down the quality of services.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, the chair of the Local Government Association’s children board, has said that while the scheme is a positive step to help working families she and the rest of the board have “repeatedly raised concerns that the funding rates are insufficient”.
Bramble added that there are particular concerns around services for disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs if funding levels fall below the cost of delivering services.
With a £660m gap in funding, private and independent nurseries offering childcare under the scheme in poorer areas are most likely to be threatened with closure and leave low-income families with fewer childcare options.
A recent survey of London councils found that the 30 hours scheme was already reducing the number of spaces available for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
It comes after a parliamentary group warned that childcare in England is at risk of becoming the preserve of the wealthy unless the funding gap is plugged.
Tulip Siddiq MP, who chairs the parliamentary group, urged the government to take recommendations on board and provide the “urgent funding and support” needed to “successfully, and sustainably, deliver its childcare policies”.
She added: “We know that the early years are hugely important to a child’s physical and mental development and future life chances.
“However, there is a significant body of evidence to demonstrate that childcare providers are battling to achieve and maintain financial sustainability, and that government policies are a major cause of this challenge.
“With the spending review just around the corner, and a new prime minister soon to enter Downing Street, this report is being published at a critical time.”
Councillor Bramble added: “Research shows that effective, high-quality early years provision makes a real difference to young children, helping to break the cycle of disadvantage, improving social mobility and offering them a good start in life.”
The government has said it’s investing more than any previous government in childcare in early education.
Responding to the cross-party group of MP’s, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are focused on raising the quality of the early years so that every child gets the best start – that’s why we are investing more than any previous government in childcare and early education, including £3.5 billion on our offers this year alone.”