With births in 2012 at their highest level since 1970, United for All Ages says that come the general election in 2015, there will be a ‘massive’ shortage of free childcare places for two-, three- and four-year-olds.
A drop in the number of childcare places was highlighted in the latest figures from Ofsted, which revealed a 4,913 reduction in places in the six months to the end of March 2013. The same figures also showed there were 1,054 fewer registered providers.
United for All Ages says that the number of childcare providers has continued to fall since 2009. There are now 56,166 registered childminders down from 60,915 four years ago and the number of nurseries has dropped from 29,458 in 2009 to 27,931.
Meanwhile births in England and Wales hit a high in 2012 at 729,674, compared to 594,634 in 2001, according to data from the Office of National statistics (ONS).
Denise Burke, director of United for All Ages, said, ‘The new baby boom is great news for families and potentially for the British economy. But without sufficient childcare, we won’t be giving all these children a good start in life and helping their parents to work.
‘Parents already face the highest childcare costs in Europe. Now it promises to become harder and harder for them to find a free early years place where they live.
‘Government and local authorities must act urgently to ensure that there are sufficient early years and childcare places across the country. Schools are already struggling to provide sufficient primary school places and are closing their nursery classes.
‘Failure to plan is planning to fail. We must not let down a generation who are so vital to the future and sustainability of our country.’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, 'It is worrying that we could be looking at a future which has a shortage of free childcare places, but if childcare is to remain free we need to look at various solutions.
'Figures from NDNA’s business survey published in May show nurseries have an average occupancy rate of 80 per cent so there are spare places. However until the Government sorts out the way free places are funded their capacity is likely to stay unused and those places remain empty.
'For the majority of nurseries free places mean making a loss, which in turn makes the system unsustainable. This coupled with concerns that hourly rates haven’t kept pace with inflation for the past four years means there will be a crisis ahead if we don’t plan.
'Save the Children reports there are 3.5million disadvantaged children in the UK and the baby boom will create more. This will put increased pressure on the system especially with the two-year-old offer coming in this September. The Government needs to ensure its funding is not only sustainable in the short term but also long term by building in projections for birth increases and their consequences.'
She added, 'What must also be taken into account with the two-year-old offer are the problems nurseries are currently having with Ofsted. If they continue to downgrade nurseries there will be even fewer places available in September 2015 when it is proposed that only those rated good and outstanding will get funding.'