The statistics question the viability of the Government’s pledge to increase the number of free childcare hours available to parents of three and four years old

Working parents are struggling to find childcare because there are insufficient places in nearly six out of 10 local authority areas, new figures show.

The statistics call into question the viability of the Government’s pledge to increase the number of free childcare hours available to parents of three and four years old, campaigners say. 

In total, 57 per cent local authorities in England do not currently have enough childcare places to meet the needs of working parents - up from 54 per cent in 2012. The situation is even worse in Wales, where 82 of council areas do not have enough childcare places - up from 50 per cent in 2012, the study by the Family and Childcare Trust found.

In addition, the report found that one in four local authorities is failing to monitor the number of childcare places available in their region - despite being required to do so every year by law.

The report – Access Denied – names the 38 English local authorities that have failed to carry out and publish assessments of local childcare since 2012. They include Harrow, Bristol, Torbay and Tower Hamlets, all of which have high childcare costs due to lack of supply, and acute shortages of places for under-fives, after-school and holiday childcare.

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David Cameron plants flowers with children during a visit to a nursery. The new Childcare Bill will see childcare allowances double for parents with a household income of less than £150,000 (Getty)

But the study praises Bolton, South Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire and Bracknell Forest where there are no significant childcare gaps or shortages, the councils monitor local childcare places, and have action plans in place to make sure they meet the needs of families.

Stephen Dunmore, chief executive at the Family and Childcare Trust said: “These are worrying findings at a time when the Government is pushing through its ambitious and welcome plans to make childcare more affordable for parents.

“Demand for extra hours of free childcare is likely to be high and we are concerned that a significant number of local authorities in England will not be able to meet this demand.

“We are calling on central Government to hold local authorities to account if they fail to monitor and publish childcare data by making it a requirement in order to receive funding for the extended free childcare offer.”

The report coincided with the publication of the Government’s latest childcare figures showing that 99 per cent of four-year-olds and 94 per cent of three-year-olds took up the 15 hours of Government-funding early education this year.

The Childcare Bill, which was introduced to Parliament earlier this month, will increase the amount of childcare provided to three and four-year-olds from working families to 30 hours for 38 weeks of the year.

The amily and Childcare Trust is also calling for the Department for Education to provide guidance to local authorities to help them monitor childcare effectively, and provide funding to help close the gaps.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want every family to have access to flexible and affordable high quality childcare. The latest figures show that 99 per cent of four-year-olds and 94 per cent of three-year olds are accessing the Government’s free childcare offer. And we are doubling the amount of hours on offer to working parents, helping them back into employment if they want to work.

 

“In addition, for the first time, more than one million children are now receiving provision in good and outstanding settings.  This means they are receiving expert care while their parents return to work, should they choose to do so.

“With more families than ever accessing childcare, new businesses can enter the market and existing ones can expand. We are crystal clear that councils should pass our funding in full to local childcare providers, and we have also committed to a funding review that will increase the amount providers receive.”

Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah said: “No parent should be denied the childcare option that works best for their family, but costs have historically been a burden on family finances that prevented them from working if they wanted to. We are removing these barriers and giving parents the chance to return to work.”

Cllr David Simmonds CBE, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Across the country, councils are working with local, private, charitable and voluntary organisations to ensure there are as many high quality and affordable nursery places as possible, but with funding wrapped up in the red tape of the wider schools budget, the current system is stifling councils’ ability to deliver the level of childcare that we all know we need.”

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