The Government has been accused of “failing working families” after it emerged more than 1,000 nurseries and childminders have gone out business in the past two years.
But the implementation of the flagship policy has been plagued with technical problems, with some nurseries struggling to fill places as glitches on the scheme’s website left parents unable to sign up.
The full roll-out of tax-free childcare, another key policy first announced by the Conservatives four years ago, has also been delayed until next year.
Only 14,142 providers joined the latest register of childcare, compared with 15,288 when it was started two years ago, according to figures obtained by Tracey Brabin, shadow minister for early years.
Four-fifths of those that dropped off the register had been rated either good or outstanding by Ofsted.
“The Tories promised to be the most family-friendly government ever, but time and again they are failing working families,” Ms Brabin told The Observer. “Ministers ask early-years providers to do more and more but refuse to give them the necessary funding.
“If they were serious about giving every child the best start in life, they would give providers the resources they need, instead of managing the decline of the sector, content to see thousands of providers lost year after year.”
The cost of childcare has risen more than four times faster than wages in the last decade, research by the Trades Union Congress found last month.
The Government’s childcare scheme came into force on 1 September with a promise of 30 hours free provision for parents who earn less than £100,000 a year and have three- or four-year-old children. Thirty hours free childcare, worth about £5,000, is double the previous government allowance.
But problems with the online registration system left some parents unable to open an account to pay a nursery, playgroup, childminder or pre-school.
Some providers have also been unable to register, leaving them unable to fill places just weeks before the launch. Others have refused to offer 30 hours free provision, arguing they cannot afford to because the Government has failed to properly fund them.
Ministers have admitted the scheme had suffered ”teething problems” but denied failing to fund the pledge. The Government said it was spending £6bn a year on childcare.
Children and families minister Robert Goodwill said: “We are determined to support as many families as possible with access to high-quality, affordable childcare, and earlier this year we fulfilled our promise to double the free childcare available to working parents to 30 hours a week, saving them up to £5,000 a year per child. Hundreds of thousands of hardworking families are already benefiting from that offer.”