Last Friday, the flagship policy of 30 free hours of childcare for working parents was introduced. It was a policy shrouded in secrecy, misinformation and mayhem, and now is the time for answers.
From the beginning, the application process was not fit for purpose. Parents were unable to get their code, settings were run ragged trying to help parents, and this afternoon parents who have been waiting weeks are still in limbo. The Minister has told us that 216,384 parents have their codes. Will he tell us what proportion that is of all parents eligible for 30 hours? How many parents received compensation? How many parents does he expect to pay out to in total? How many of those children have secured a funded place and how many have not? This is basic information that we should already know.
Experts, providers and parents are up in arms about this lack of funding. The Pre-school Learning Alliance found a 20% funding shortfall and three-quarters of providers said that childcare funding did not cover their costs. Shockingly, 38% of providers do not think that they will be sustainable in a year’s time. To stay viable, settings will charge for extras such as trips out, nappies and lunches in order to pay their staff and keep the lights on. Can the Minister guarantee that he will not allow a two-tier system to emerge whereby parents who cannot afford to pay the extras do not have access to the policy and those who can do?
Despite the Minister claiming otherwise, Busy Bees and the Co-operative Childcare group have now publicly said the funding rates are insufficient, so what is his strategy to keep experienced and talented practitioners in the sector? The Minister used the pilot evaluations to defend funding rates, but the truth is that 30 hours had a negative financial impact on providers, so has he spoken to stressed-out providers facing closure or parents at their wits’ end?
Finally, this childcare has been advertised as free but it is clear that it will be subsidised by parents or providers. This risks pricing out the poorest and top providers leaving the sector. Will he now listen and commit to re-evaluating the policy’s funding?