Think tank urges the next Government to introduce year-round free universal childcare

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A new report by the IPPR calls for year-round free part-time childcare for two- to four-year-olds, paid for by freezing child benefit.

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The IPPR report recommends making investment in young children a priority

In its report, ‘The condition of Britain’, the think tank urges the next Government to make investing in young children a priority so parents can work.

It goes on to recommend extending the 15 free hours to all two-year-olds, and increasing universal childcare from 38 weeks to 48 weeks a year for two-, three- and four-year-olds.

The IPPR also calls for guaranteed affordable childcare places for all parents of children from the age of one.

These measures would be funded by restricting pension tax relief, freezing child benefit and scrapping the marriage tax allowance, due to come in next year, says the IPPR.

More details of the measures and how they will be financed will be published in a later report.

To further improve the quality of early years provision, the think tank recommends all staff working with two-year-olds hold at least a Level 3 child development qualification, and 30 per cent of practitioners have an early years degree.

Other recommendations outlined in the report include:

  • for child benefit to rise with prices for children under five, to protect family incomes when parents want to work fewer hours;
  • freezing child benefit in cash terms for school-age children, and investing the money in childcare;
  • introducing a separate work allowance into universal credit to make work pay for second earners, which would promote dual-earning and a balance of work and care within couples;
  • giving working fathers an entitlement to four weeks of leave following the birth of their child, paid at least the national minimum wage, as well as paid time off for antenatal appointments.

Kate Lawton, one of the authors of the 'Condition of Britain', said, ‘Freezing child benefit for school-aged children was a tough choice to make, however universal services should be made a priority over benefits.

‘We also recommend extra resources for after-school care for five to 12-year-olds, which would give parents an additional incentive to work more.’

Commenting on the report, Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said, ‘PACEY welcomes the IPPR’s bold proposal for year-round affordable childcare places for all one- to four-year-olds, so long as this is funded properly and embraces all forms of childcare - both in home and group settings - so parents can choose the childcare setting that best suits their family's needs. Appropriate levels of funding for this proposal are critical to ensuring registered childcare providers can invest in the qualified staff that all the evidence shows support better outcomes for children, especially our most disadvantaged children.

‘We applaud the proposal for all staff working with two-year-olds to hold at least a Level 3 child development qualification. While we also support an increase in the number of graduates working in early years settings, it is important to recognise that many frontline childcare practitioners without early years degree qualifications also provide professional, high quality care for children.

‘Childcare and early learning has improved immensely in the last ten years but we have still to overcome the challenge of ensuring families not only receive flexible, affordable childcare, but that children receive a high-quality experience too. That is what makes the biggest difference for children's life chances. Furthermore childcare for school age children remains as much a challenge as childcare for the early years.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘We welcome the report’s recognition that any major reforms to the childcare market in England will require significant investment.

‘However, as the majority of early years providers do not receive enough funding to cover the costs of delivering the current free entitlement offers, we believe that it’s vital that current funding inadequacies are fully addressed before we look at extending the officer.

‘We also support the call for increased Government investment into the improvement of both qualifications and levels of pay in early years.’