Nationwide childcare shortage means disadvantaged children missing out - but costs continue to rise

A nationwide childcare shortage is seeing the most disadvantaged children missing out, as the number of available places plummets.

In the last year, there has been a 7% drop in the number of English local authorities reporting sufficient childcare places for those aged under two, according to an annual survey by Coram Family and Childcare.

But as places decline, the cost has continued to rise and is now up 5.6% on 12 months ago. This means a part-time place (25 hours a week) for a child under two costs an average of £148.63 per week.

It is the most disadvantaged children at risk of missing out, with just one in five (18%) of local authorities reporting sufficient childcare for children with disabilities, a 3% decrease on last year.

Almost half (43%) of local authorities across Great Britain report that some, or many, of their childcare providers, have reduced the number of funded early education entitlement places they can provide.

In England, there has been a 6% drop in the proportion of local areas that have enough places for the universal 15-hour early education entitlement for three and four year olds.

These places are vital in narrowing the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, and there is concern they will miss out on this vital boost to their outcomes.

The report also highlights how widely childcare varies across the country.

The average weekly cost of a part-time place for a child under two is 54% higher in inner London (£199.01) than in Yorkshire and Humberside (£129.32). In outer London, just 28% of local authorities report having enough childcare for children under two, whilst the figure is 100% for the North East.

Labour's childcare pledge

The report comes as Labour's shadow education secretary will say today that reforming the broken childcare system will be her "first priority in government".

During a speech to the centre-right think tank Onward, Bridget Phillipson is expected to say that Labour will not continue to throw taxpayers' money at the current broken "jerry-built" system of free hours, which has seen struggling providers given less money by government than the Department for Education says it costs to deliver them.

"The childcare model the Conservatives have built fails everyone, denying parents the ability to work the jobs they'd like, to give their children the opportunities they'd like, and is not of the quality that staff want to provide."

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"In the Britain the Conservatives will leave behind, tweaking the system we have will not deliver the ambition or scale of reform we are going to need.

"Labour's missions must be central to breaking down the barriers to opportunity in this country. To break down those barriers, our Mission commits to reforming the childcare system: that will be my first priority.

Labour has previously said a failure to support providers is driving up prices for parents as nurseries and childminders seek to recoup losses with higher prices for paid-for childcare hours to stay afloat, though this has meant many have been forced to close altogether.

Cost of childcare crisis

The extortionate costs of childcare are expected to become a flash point during the upcoming Budget, and more widely at the next General Election.

Some 96% of families with a child under three years old are more likely to vote for the party with the best childcare pledge and 98% of women using childcare think the government is not doing enough to support them, a survey from charity Pregnant Then Screwed has found.

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Three and four-year-olds in England attending a nursery or childminder are eligible for either 15 or 30 free hours a week depending on whether their parents work and there were suggestions the Treasury was considering expanding this to younger children.

But on Tuesday, children's minister Claire Coutinho said there are no plans by the government to extend the 30 free hours of childcare a week beyond what is currently in place.