Two-thirds of councils not sure they can cope with demand
by Felicity Collier
A TORY pledge to increase free childcare for almost 400,000 low-income parents has completely fallen flat, Labour pointed out yesterday.
The government promised that the amount of free childcare available for pre-schoolers across the country would increase to 30 hours a week in September.
But only a third of English councils are confident of being able to cope with demand, a recent survey by the Family and Childcare Trust found.
Analysis of Budget papers has also suggested that the number of places on offer could rise more slowly than predicted.
The trust is calling on the government to ensure that childcare needs are met, as around 390,000 parents of three to four year-olds will qualify for the offer. It was set up to help children from low-income families.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “The cost of childcare has rocketed under the Tories and their promises to offer free hours have completely fallen flat.
“First we saw delay after delay to the tax-free childcare, and the extra free hours offer has been plagued with problems because the Tories have failed to fund it properly.
“Now there will be even fewer places available, so more children and their families will be losing out.”
Family and Childcare Trust deputy chief executive Ellen Broome warned: “This popular policy could leave many families disappointed if places are not available.
“Our childcare survey released earlier this month found that just a third of local authorities in England were confident that they would have enough childcare available for three and four-year-olds using the 30-hour offer.”
Nonetheless, the government insisted that it was “on track” to deliver the scheme.
Ministers disputed the prediction made by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which said: “It seems likely that the supply of places will rise more slowly over the first two years than originally assumed.”
Ms Broome said: “We need government to put together a robust childcare strategy to better understand how to meet the childcare needs of parents and to make sure every child can get high-quality childcare that boosts their learning.”