Interview - Sian Elliott

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Research and learning officer, 4in10 - London's child poverty campaigning network

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Sian Elliott

Your campaign helped highlight a flaw in Universal Credit that meant disadvantaged two-year-olds could miss out on funded childcare.

Two-year-olds growing up in poverty stand to gain the most from accessing high-quality early years education. The two-year-old funding offer has been a key part of the strategy to narrow the gap between children in poverty and their better-off peers.

As part of this strategy, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent local authorities (LAs) a list of households in their area in receipt of qualifying benefits, and in which there is a child who is two or about to become two. LAs are then able to send targeted information on the two-year-old offer to these households, encouraging them to apply. This approach was working well, the number of twos taking up early years funding significantly increased – in 2017, 96 per cent of funded twos were attending a setting graded Good or Outstanding.

However, I began to receive reports from LAs that children in families in receipt of Universal Credit were not appearing on the DWP list. Official guidance from the Department for Education confirmed this. It was unclear why this was the case but its impact was clear – thousands of the country’s most disadvantaged two-year-olds could miss out on vital funding because their parents wouldn’t know they were eligible.

What has the DWP agreed to do?

After alerting the Government to the consequences of this, it was disappointing to initially receive a denial that qualifying households in receipt of Universal Credit were being omitted. Following further questioning from Caroline Lucas MP and 4in10, we received a response from Employment Minister Alok Sharma MP, committing DWP to ensuring that all two-year-olds in families in receipt of Universal Credit would be included on these lists from March 2018.

How will you ensure that eligible two-year-olds don’t miss out?

At 4in10 we work closely with LAs in London. We will monitor the lists to see evidence that, come March, every eligible two-year-old, or those just about to turn two, including those in households in receipt of Universal Credit, are included on the DWP lists. If not, we will take immediate action and alert Mr Sharma.

Ensuring parents know their child is eligible is only one piece of the puzzle. We also need to tackle the chronic underfunding of the scheme that is leading to a severe shortage of funded places in the capital.

We know many families are struggling to find funded places for their two-year-olds or, if they do, there are often additional charges they can’t meet, preventing them from taking up a place, and their child misses out.

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