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Childcare policies “have a detrimental impact” on disadvantaged families

By Rachel Lawler
Alliance calls for clarity on children’s centre strategy
 
In a joint letter, published in the Guardian and co-ordinated by the Alliance, several charities have voiced concerns about the impact of the government’s 30-hour and tax-free childcare policies on social mobility.
 
The letter warns that government childcare and early years policies are having a detrimental impact on disadvantaged and low-income families across England.
 
The letter states: "We are concerned that the government’s approach to childcare policy is at risk of undermining its social mobility ambitions. Its flagship 30-hours scheme represents a unique opportunity to support working families in accessing quality, affordable childcare. However, survey findings from the Pre-school Learning Alliance suggest that to remain financially viable, a significant proportion of early-years providers have had to introduce or increase additional charges – and, in some cases, prioritise places for those families able to pay for extras. This means that working families on the lowest incomes are at risk of missing out."
 
The other signatories on the letter are: The Sutton Trust, Gingerbread, Child Poverty Action Group, Action for Children, Children England, National Children’s Bureau and Family Action.
 
Impact on families
These concerns come shortly after a survey conducted by the Alliance found that just one third of providers are currently offering the 30-hours offer without any additional charges. The survey also highlighted that 37% of providers have increased or introduced additional charges as a result of the 30-hours offer.
 
Earlier this year, Action for Children also revealed that nearly 1,000 children’s centres may not have been inspected for more than five years.
 
The Alliance and another signatories have called for action from the government. The letter says: "We believe that we share the same fundamental goal: to ensure that families receive the support they need to live happy, secure lives. If the government truly wants to achieve this goal, it must ensure that its rhetoric on social mobility is matched by action."
 
Social mobility
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “It’s one thing to talk about social mobility but it’s quite another to develop policies that effectively promote it – and as this letter makes clear, we’re far from alone in our concerns.
 
“While we of course support initiatives that help families to access quality, affordable childcare and early years services, as it stands, the government’s approach to childcare and early years policy risks widening the gap between the poorest children and their peers, rather than closing it.”
 
Dr Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, added: “It is understandable that the government wants to improve access to childcare for working parents. But this must not be at the expense of good early education for disadvantaged children. Focusing on getting it right for the poorest two and three year-olds would make a much bigger difference to social mobility, by improving their chances at school and in later life.”
 
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