'Radical action' needed to overhaul Scotland's childcare

A new report calls for ‘radical action’ by Scottish and Central Government to transform childcare in Scotland.

According to the Commission for Childcare Reform, which has written the report, the affordability, availability and funding of childcare are major issues that need addressing to resolve the current problems with Scotland’s childcare provision.

The report, ‘Meeting Scotland’s Childcare Challenge’, makes a series of recommendations to improve and overhaul childcare delivery in the future, following extensive consultation with parents, providers, employers and businesses throughout the country.

It follows an independent review of the Scottish Early Learning Childcare Workforce review by Professor Iram Siraj earlier this month.

Affordability and availability

To make childcare more affordable for parents, the commission recommends introducing a universal entitlement of 50 hours of free or subsidised childcare a week for children up to the age of 12.

If the 50 hours of childcare are subsidised, the report suggests in the long-term capping the cost parents pay to no more than 10 per cent of their net household income.  Depending on their circumstances, it says some families may need support to reduce costs below this level.

In the short term, the commission says a priority should be given to ‘smoothing cost burdens’ for all families, and to supporting those families who live in or near poverty.

The report, which states that many parents find it hard to access childcare that meets their needs, also recommends the state ensure there is a range of suitable childcare.

Funding mechanisms

According to the Commission, state funding of childcare in Scotland is ‘complicated, confusing, unfair and lacks transparency’.

It acknowledges that there are not enough providers of full daycare that receive local authority funding for the 600 hours of free early learning and childcare, meaning some working parents are unable to take up their place.

A survey by the Fair Funding For Our Kids (FFFOK) campaign last month revealed 1,081 children in West Lothian and Glasgow are unable to take up their 600 hours of free childcare.

The report goes on to recommend:

  • Robust and comprehensive data on the provision, uptake and funding of childcare be collected to inform debate and decision making;
  • Scottish Government, working with UK Government, local authorities and providers, commission a fundamental review of all aspects of the funding of childcare;
  • Simplifying the funding of childcare so it is clear, simple and fair for families and providers;
  • An account be established for each child to provide a transparent route through which all money used to pay for or subsidise childcare is channeled to providers.

The commission says the cost of implementing its plans, which it believes will take at least five or even ten years to put into place, will depend to a large extent on the level of uptake.

Commission chair Colin MacLean said, ‘Our report asks the Scottish Government to address the country’s ‘childcare challenge’ – ensuring that when parents need to use childcare in order to work or study, they can access high-quality, affordable, flexible provision and be confident that it meets the needs of their child.

‘Through 15 months of intense consultation work we have developed a series of recommendations which we believe identify the key issues in childcare and provide the template to meet that challenge.'

‘With the publication of our report, the recent report from Professor Siraj on workforce issues, widespread engagement of so many stakeholders in this debate, and a powerful commitment from Government, employers, local authorities, providers and parents to make childcare work for families, we believe the time is right for change. I hope the Scottish Government endorses our long-term vision for childcare and take the steps to see it implemented.’  

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, which submitted evidence to the Commission, said, ‘We are pleased that the Commission has highlighted all the issues that we have been campaigning to change for several years now, including the chronic lack of funding for free places and difficulties with flexibility and availability of these funded hours.

‘The report points to a lack of parental choice and availability of free childcare, but there is plenty of untapped available high-quality childcare within private, voluntary and independent nurseries. Unfortunately many of these settings are not being given the opportunity to provide the free hours, because local authorities choose which providers will deliver this service.

‘With the commission also recommending that each child should have their own account for childcare funding, we hope this will increase opportunities for private nurseries to deliver free places.’

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