Affordable childcare

Document type
Corporate author(s)
Great Britain. Parliament. House of Lords. Select Committee on Affordable Childcare
Date of publication
24 February 2015
House of Lords papers, session 2014/15; HL 117
Children and Young People
Social welfare
Material type

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The Government invests in early education and childcare to promote both parental employment and child development. It currently spends £5.2 billion annually, set to rise to £6.4 billion in the next Parliament with the implementation of the tax-free childcare scheme and the roll-out of Universal Credit. The stated aims of this investment are three-fold: to promote child development for all children, to narrow the gap in attainment between the most disadvantaged children and their better off peers; and to enable parents to work. The evidence suggests that there is a fourth implicit aim, strongly supported by our witnesses, and that is poverty reduction: in the short term, through support for childcare costs, enabling parents to work; in the longer term, through the provision of high quality early education, enabling children from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their potential and break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

Government policy supports childcare in three main ways: through the free early education entitlement, consisting of 15 hours of free early education for 38 weeks of the year for all three and four year-olds, and the 40% most disadvantaged two year-olds; through the childcare element of Working Tax Credits, soon to be replaced by Universal Credit; and through employer-supported childcare vouchers, soon to be replaced by the tax-free childcare scheme.

Many of the witnesses acknowledged the trade-offs inherent in a policy which seeks on the one hand to promote child development, and on the other hand to facilitate parental employment. For example, cheap, low-quality childcare might help parents to work, but it would not meet the Government's child development objectives. There is therefore an inherent tension which must be managed; hard choices have to be made. No evidence was presented to us to suggest that the Government formally recognised the need for such trade-offs. We find there is an urgent need for the Government to clarify how the competing aims of the policy are prioritised and what mechanisms exist between Government departments to address necessary trade-offs.

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