While the FPI Family Friendly report card acknowledges that the percentage of early years providers rated as good or outstanding has increased, it warns that a gap still remains between the quality of provision in the most and least deprived areas.
It goes on to say that there are fewer Sure Start children’s centres. In April 2010 there were 3,631 compared to 3,506 in September 2011, a reduction of 124 settings.
The charity’s report card welcomes the Government’s offer of free nursery places for two-year-olds and the free trial of parenting classes, but claims that the initiatives come against a back-drop of benefit and tax credit cuts, high childcare costs and high costs of living.
It also says that reductions in local authority budgets are also being passed on to families, with some services either being scaled back or cut, at a time when families are most at need.
Overall, the charity has given the UK a grade D+ in its annual assessment of the country’s progress in becoming a family-friendly society, using school style grades. This is the same grade as last year, indicating that there has been no improvement.
The UK’s lowest score was an E+ for ‘fairer society for families’, down from last year’s grade of a D minus. The FPI says this is because the cost of raising a child continues to increase, along with childcare costs that have increased at a higher rate than wages.
It also refers to the changes to child benefit that will come into place from next April, and the introduction of the Universal Credit in October 2013.
A grade of C- was given to the UK for its family-friendly infrastructure and living environment, which includes green spaces and housing, along with its business and working life.
The report card pinpoints housing as the next ‘bombshell’ to affect a large number of families, with the Government’s housing benefit cap looming, meaning that some families may be uprooted from their local area in order to find cheaper accommodation.
Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said, ‘The score of D+ shows how the Government is struggling to realise its ambition of a family friendly UK. Families serve as the shock absorbers of society when times are tough. But millions of families are close to breaking point due to financial pressures. We are worried there is even worse to come as austerity measures are carried through and median family income is predicted to continue to fall until 2015.
‘Essentially, Mr Cameron is running up the down escalator. The pro-family policies that he has introduced are being dwarfed by the economic situation. He needs to be much bolder if families are to thrive.’
Dr Rake added, ‘This D+ score is a "must try harder" verdict. We are calling on the Prime Minister to respond in person to this assessment and explain to the nation how his family friendly vision can still be realised.’
The Family and Parenting Institute is also giving members of the public an opportunity to leave the Prime Minister David Cameron a voicemail and tell him what family life is really like in the UK.www.audioboo.fm/channel/dial-dave