If you’re a parent of a young child, the Tories have probably just screwed you over

Theresa May Childcare Tories
Steve Topple

A senior Labour MP has slammed the Tories for potentially creating a “lost generation” of children, days before one of the government’s flagship policies is rolled out. And if your child is of pre-school age, you may wish to read what she has to say.

Damning analysis

The MP for Manchester Central, Lucy Powell, has released a report [Dropbox pdf] into the £9bn the Tories have promised for childcare spending over the next five years. And the analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) is highly critical of the government’s approach to early years education and childcare. It found that:

  • Only [pdf p5] £250m, or 2.7%, of the extra £9.1bn being spent on childcare in the next five years will reach the most disadvantaged families.
  • Out of ten income brackets, just [pdf p11] 23% of the financial benefits of the ’30 hours free’ childcare scheme will go to the families in the bottom five; 11% [pdf p12] will go to families in the top income bracket alone.
  • Only 78% of children in ‘workless’ households have access [pdf p20] to free childcare, compared to 95% where both parents work.
  • Just 54% of children on free school meals reach [pdf p14] a “good level of development”, compared to 69% of the richest children.
  • Sure Start funding has dropped [pdf p18] by 30% since 2010, with a loss of 1,240 centres.
  • 10% of the government’s total spending on early years childcare goes [pdf p20] to providers rated as ‘Requiring Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted.
  • Twice as many two-year-olds in the most deprived areas are not getting [pdf p21] free childcare, compared to the richest.
  • The government’s changes to the early years funding formula means 25% of areas with the most under-attaining children will lose [pdf p25] money. Also, 40% of ‘maintained’ (local authority run) nurseries are having their funding cut [pdf p24].
  • Less than half of disadvantaged two-year-olds have access [pdf p22] to a qualified teacher.

A “lost generation”

Powell said of the report’s findings:

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With a singular focus on early years policies which subsidise the already well-off, the government is leaving disadvantaged children lagging further and further behind. Far from addressing this, over the next parliament this is set to get significantly worse…

This huge skewing of resources seriously risks a widening developmental gap between disadvantaged children and their better off peers at the age of five, creating a lost generation who will struggle to ever catch up…

Continue reading below...

Not fit for purpose?

The SMF report was also critical of the education watchdog Ofsted, saying [pdf p13-14]:

Whilst 91% of childcare providers are rated good or outstanding, 3 in 10 children start reception class without reaching a good level of development. Ofsted judgments are not good enough measurements… Under this government Ofsted is the sole arbiter of quality in the early years, with the local authority roles stripped back… there are concerns… that Ofsted do not tell the whole story when inspecting early years settings…

But the report’s analysis, especially relating to the ’30 hours free’ childcare policy, is not surprising. Because as The Canary previously reported, the Department for Education’s (DfE) own trial run of the policy found serious failings.

‘For the few’

You can read The Canary‘s full analysis here. But overall, the DfE said [pdf p14] of the trial that 57% of the 5,000 childcare places were from private companies. And here’s where the problems arose. Because according to the report:

  • 55% of parents said [pdf p19] that the “free places involved payment for additional charges”.
  • Providers were concerned [pdf p15] not only about the “financial viability” of the scheme, but also “staff retention and recruitment difficulties”.
  • Only 30% of providers could [pdf p17] “definitely” create more free childcare places.
  • 42% of parents said [pdf p22] they didn’t use the additional childcare hours.
  • Only 1% of mothers started work after [pdf p24] the childcare scheme began, while 23% reported that they increased their working hours. This was versus 1% and 9% of fathers, respectively.

Also, and in line with Powell’s analysis, the DfE found that the scheme mostly benefitted richer families. Because it found [pdf p21/22] that, of the parents using the childcare:

  • 34% had income between £32,000 and £52,000.
  • 33% earned over £52,000.
  • 31% were couples with a father and mother both already working full time.
  • Just 10% were part-time working single parents and 5% were full-time working single parents.

Childcare, from the care-nots

The challenge facing parents is summed up in one statistic [pdf p14]: 43% of childcare providers joined the ’30 hours free’ scheme because “they saw it as a good business opportunity”.

Powell’s analysis, along with the previous DfE report, shows a childcare system skewed out of control. When Theresa May repeatedly said that she wanted to make the UK a “great meritocracy”, many probably didn’t believe her. And now, as the evidence of her government’s failings balloon, it is clear that her words were just more vacuous platitudes.

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