While overall use of formal childcare is stable, the Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents in England, 2014-15 found that just 49 per cent of children in deprived areas use formal childcare, compared to 65 per cent of families in better-off areas.
Take-up of the funded places among three- and four-year-olds is 80 per cent for families earning less than £10,000 a year, but rises to 94 per cent among those earning £45,000 or more.
The survey for 2014-15 shows that overall childcare usage is unchanged since 2012-13.
The findings are based on face-to-face interviews with 6,198 parents by Ipsos Mori. The survey was annual until 2012 but is now biannual.
Imelda Redmond, chief executive of 4Children, said the figures showed ‘a worrying lack of progress in the use of formal childcare in more deprived areas.
‘High quality childcare is vital for children in their early years and can have a significant impact on their future prospects,’ she said, adding that the difference in take-up of formal childcare between children in the most deprived areas and those in the least deprived areas, was ‘a social mobility issue. There has been no improvement in these rates since 2013 - if we are to close the attainment gap which is already obvious when children start school, increasing quality childcare usage in deprived areas must be a priority.
‘Lower income families are already less likely to receive Government-funded 15 hours of early education - we need to see renewed efforts to ensure the new 30 hours’ entitlement focuses on improving take-up of quality childcare in more deprived parts of the country.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance said, ‘This raises questions about why this take-up is not higher, and suggests that providers in areas of deprivation are struggling to meet the needs of parents because they simply cannot afford to. Indeed, the report highlights that usage of formal childcare fell as area deprivation levels rose.’
He added that the NAO report had highlighted that providers have faced real term cuts in funding in recent years which presents challenges when it comes to delivering free entitlement places.
‘We would urge the government to engage with the sector to address this issue, as these pressures are only going to increase with the introduction of the 30-hours offer.’
Julia Margo, chief executive, Family and Childcare Trust, said the figures confirmed that many disadvantaged children are currently missing out on free early education.
‘Just 78 per cent of eligible children aged between two and four who live in workless households were receiving free early education, compared with 95 per cent of children in families where both parents work.
‘This echoes the findings in our own 2016 Childcare Survey, published last week, which showed that currently 41,300 three year olds are missing out on free early education, with over a third of local authorities saying they didn’t have enough childcare for this age group.
‘Free childcare is of no help to parents if they can’t find a place for their child. To make sure all children who need it can get a place, we want to see the right to a childcare place brought into line with the right to a school place.’