Research carried out for the Department for Education by Ipsos Mori found that 89 per cent of families earning more than £45,000 or more were aware of the 30-hour entitlement for working parents compared to 68 per cent of those with family incomes earning less than £10,000 a year. Couples with children were also more likely to be aware of the offer than lone parents.
The Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents in England 2018 is the 14th in a long-running series of reports.
- £600m underspend as parents shun Tax-Free Childcare
- EYFS data highlights growing gap between disadvantaged children and their peers
The research also shows that awareness of Tax-Free Childcare among parents remains low, with just over a quarter of parents with a child under 12 aware of the scheme.
Of those that did know about the scheme couples with children (33 per cent) and working lone parents (24 per cent) were more aware of the scheme than lone parents who did not work (17 per cent).
Just 5 per cent of working families with a child under 12 had opened a TFC account and a further 1 per cent had applied for it but had not opened an account.
The low take-up chimes with Government figures revealed by teh Treasury last month, which showed a £600 million underspend on TFC.
Take-up of the two-year-old offer for disadvantaged children remains much lower than that of the universal entitlement for three- and four-year-olds.
The survey found that 72 per cent of eligible twos were using the entitlement compared to 92 per cent of three-year-olds and 95 per cent of four-year-olds.
Parents who applied for the 30 hours were most likely to have done so to help with their childcare costs (60 per cent), so they could maintain (31 per cent) or increase (22 per cent) their working hours, or to help prepare their child for school (25 per cent).
Almost all (94 per cent) ofparents using the 30 hours were satisfied with the way they were able to use the scheme.
The DfE estimates that 3 out of 4 of eligible children have taken up some of the 30 hours.
Sector organisations expressed concern that low-income families were not benefiting from funded childcare to the same extent as better-off families.
Stella Ziolkowski, the National Day Nurseries Association’s director of quality and training, said, ‘Although this report shows positive parental feedback towards funded childcare, it’s a grave concern that government policy is not supporting children from low income families equally.
‘Fewer children from deprived areas and in families on lower incomes attend nursery. And yet 84 per cent of parents interviewed said that the 30 hours had prepared their child better for school, with positive outcomes for communication, numeracy and literacy skills.
‘We know that early support can give children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the best chance of fulfilling their potential. Take up of two-year-old funded hours is still very low (72 per cent) compared with the three-year-old offer, when research tells us that this is the best place to start to have the biggest impact.
‘Government must make the funded entitlement available to children who most need it.’
She added,‘Awareness of Tax-Free Childcare needs much more work especially now that the voucher scheme is closed to new entrants – only 27 per cent of parents are aware which is appalling. These stats are even lower for lone parent families. Low take up could also be linked to the financial gap between coming off benefits and receiving TFC.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We know that the cost of childcare presents a significant financial challenge to many families, and so it is positive to see that parental awareness of the funded entitlement schemes is growing.
‘That said, given studies have shown that current government childcare policies tend to benefit wealthier families over and above those more in need of support, it is worrying to see that only 66 per cent of parents in the most deprived areas of the country are aware of the 30-hour offer, compared to 84 per cent of those in the least deprived.
‘What's more, while the so-called “free entitlement” offers are – understandably – generally popular among parents, this alone cannot and should not be a measure of how successful these policies are.
Both the NDNA and the Pre-school Learning Alliance reiterated the need for more funding so that parents would not have to pay for extras, which some of them were unable to afford.
Ms Ziolkowski said, 'Providers need to be paid adequately so these hours are actually free to parents as well as meeting the full cost of delivery. Nurseries cannot go on absorbing huge shortfalls and limiting both two-year-old and 30 hours places to remain sustainable.’
Mr Leitch added, ’Simply arguing that these schemes are popular with parents isn't good enough – the Government must ensure that those providers delivering funded places are adequately supported to do so.'
About the Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents in England 2018
The wide-ranging survey is based on the experiences of parents with children from birth to 14.
It looks at the overall use of childcare providers, take-up of the funded 15 hours of childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds and all three- and four-year-olds, and the funded 30 hours of childcare of three- and four-year-olds with working parents.It also asks parents about their views of quality, the availability of childcare, children’s use of digital electronic devices in the home learning environment, the cost of childcare and affordability, and factors influencing mothers’ decisions around working.
The findings are based on face-to-face interviews carried out between January and August 2018 with 5,922 parents. The DfE says the research aims to provide up-to-date information on parents’ use of childcare and their views and experiences. A follow-up survey will be carried out in 2019 with parents who have agreed to take part in further research.