Ministers have promised cash assistance to parents on Family Credit who use registered childminders or recognised nurseries from October. But figures published yesterday show a lack of child-care facilities means many parents are forced to rely on family and friends for help.
As a result, they will not be eligible for the allowance worth up to pounds 28 a week. Marion Kozak, director of the Daycare Trust, a child-care charity, said assistance with child care costs was a step in the right direction but 'may be of limited help because many parents do not have access to registered child care'.
Yesterday's figures come from a survey of 5,500 English children under eight which aimed to find out what day care parents used and their preferences.
It showed that four in 10 mothers of three and four-year-olds whose children did not attend a nursery would have liked them to. Almost half of mothers of children attending playgroups would have preferred nursery schools or day nurseries.
The report - commissioned by the Department of Health - showed that 80 per cent of under-fives were placed in some kind of day care. But only half go to playgroups, nursery schools and childminders - the rest are cared for informally by relatives and friends.
Almost half of schoolchildren under eight were always looked after by their mothers, while four in 10 were cared for by relatives and friends. Overall, two-thirds of schoolchildren with working mothers used a day-care service compared with one-third of children with mothers at home.
Ms Kozak said the study 'shows how badly an overhaul of policy is needed. The stated aim of current policy is diversity and choice. But this research shows parental choice is often an illusion'.
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