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Fear of growing inequality as poorer parents miss out on formal childcare

Article By: Michaela Chirgwin

An early years charity has warned of growing inequality as new figures show that under half of poorer families, earning less than £10,000 a year, are using formal childcare.

Credit: Spass/

The results of a parent survey by the Department for Education (DfE) reveal only 44 per cent of poorer parents are accessing formal childcare.

This is in stark contrast to 69 per cent of parents earning more than £45,000 a year, who use formal childcare on a regular basis.

Of the parents surveyed, well over half rated the overall quality of local childcare provision as very or fairly good, with just nine per cent rating it as very or fairly poor.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, stated that whilst overall figures were generally good, more needed to be done to bridge the inequality gap appearing within the childcare sector. He said: “The Department for Education’s parent survey once again highlights how important childcare is to children and families across the country, with 96 per cent of four-year-olds and 93 per cent of three-year-olds now in receipt of Government-funded early education.

"However, the fact that only 44 per cent of families earning below £10,000 per year are receiving formal childcare, compared to 69 per cent of families earning £45,000 or more, shows that much more needs to be done to ensure that those children from lower income families have equal access to affordable, quality care and education.”

It also emerged from the study that parents considered a number of factors when choosing a formal childcare provider. For pre-school children, the most common factors were the provider’s convenience (mentioned by 64 per cent of parents) and reputation (61 per cent).

Parents that were surveyed reported to pay an average hourly rate of £5.20 for a day nursery place, £4 for a place at a nursery school and £6 for a childminder, but according to Mr Leitch, the 30 hours scheme makes rates unclear and was excluding poorer families from accessing places.

He said: "Not only does the policy exclude families on the lowest end of the income scale completely, while allowing working families earning up to £100,000 to benefit from the scheme, but chronic underfunding means that many childcare providers are unable to offer 30 hours funded places without asking families to subsidise the funding shortfall, forcing them to give priority to parents who are able to afford to pay for additional good and services.

"As a result, we risk creating a situation where an even greater number of disadvantaged children – arguably, those who have most to gain from early years education – are unable to access it. Given the Government's recent renewed commitment to improving social mobility, we hope it will take note of these findings and ensuring that it invests what's needed to ensure that quality childcare and early education is available to all families that need it."

Pre-school children aged up to four-years-old, were most likely to receive formal childcare, with nurseries making up 22 per cent, nursery schools 11 per cent, nursery classes 10 per cent, and playgroups and pre-schools 10 per cent.

Forty-one per cent of all school-age children aged from 5-14 years attended an after-school club at some point during their education.

The survey also revealed that formal childcare was used by 66 per cent of families,up from 63 per cent in 2010-11 due to increased use of breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, and day nurseries.

To read the Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents in England, 2017, click here


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