Exclusive:1 in 5 childcare providers do not offer 30 hours free scheme in England - as Chancellor extends offer
More than a fifth of childcare providers are not providing the existing 30 hours free care for children aged three and four in England - as the Chancellor extends the scheme to one and two year olds.
and live on Freeview channel 276
More than 11,000 childcare providers, representing more than 20% of early years settings in England, are not providing 30 hours free care for children aged three and four, figures show.
Critics say new funding for the government’s existing 30 hours free scheme set out in last month’s Spring Budget does not go far enough, and is “unlikely to address the existing problems” parents of three and four year olds already face when it comes to accessing funded places under the current scheme.
The Chancellor also announced an expansion of the scheme to give children aged 9 months to two years access to first 15 hours then 30 hours free childcare per week. It is set to be rolled out in phases and not fully operational until September 2025.
Currently, working parents of three and four year olds are entitled to 30 hours free childcare for 38 weeks of the year provided they (and their partner, if they have one) earn at least the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage for 16 hours per week on average, and less than £100,000 per year.
But figures published by the Department for Education show last year in England almost 11,200 childminders, nurseries and school-based early years providers that take three and four year olds were not catering for any children under the 30 hours free scheme, representing 21% of all settings. There are around 54,000 childcare providers that take three and four year olds in England.
‘Parent’s can’t find funded places’
Campaign group Working Families said the policy extension, while intended to help parents of younger children, could “replicate issues” parents of three-to-four year olds currently face in accessing the free childcare.
“We regularly hear from parents who cannot find funded places for their children and others who struggle to afford the additional hours or high top-up fees required to secure a place,” Simon Kelleher, head of policy and influencing at Working Families, said.
“The root cause of this is the underfunding of entitlements for two to four year olds, estimated to be a shortfall of £1.8bn. While [last month’s] budget increased the funding rate for three and four year-olds by 5%, this is unlikely to counter rising overheads for providers so the struggle to secure funded places is likely to remain for many parents.”
Childcare providers have long argued government funding for the 30 hours scheme does not cover their actual costs. The budget increased the funding rate for three and four year-olds by 5% but Working Families says this is still unlikely to counter providers’ rising bills.
Last month (15 March) we reported how parents of children aged under two had seen a 13.1% increase in childcare fees in the last five years, with parents in the North East seeing an almost 20% increase in rates, more than any other region in the country.
The DfE figures show childminders were the least likely to offer 30 hours free care at present. Almost a third of childminders were not offering it in 2022, alongside 26% of school-based providers and 8% of nurseries.
Mr Kelleher added: “Recent analysis from Coram suggests that this is getting worse, with 43% of local authorities across Great Britain reporting that some or many providers in their locality have reduced their offer of funded hours.”
The Department for Education said: “We are providing substantial funding for local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to childcare providers, with funding increasing year on year to meet rising cost pressures.
“We will ensure that the new free hours offers are phased in to allow the market to develop the necessary capacity, and we’ll continue to work closely with the sector to develop plans to grow, develop and support the workforce.”