Committee calls for truly universal free childcare scheme

(Title Image: nurseryworld.co.uk)

Education & Young People Committee
Stage 1: Childcare Funding Bill (pdf)
Published: 17th July 2018

“We welcome the steps taken by the Welsh Government to legislate to make it easier for parents to apply for the childcare offer. However, we are concerned about the extent to which the proposed national childcare offer, facilitated by this Bill and being piloted in different areas of Wales at the moment, targets those most in need of support.”

 

– Committee Chair, Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen)

The Childcare Funding Bill (more here) is being introduced as part of a Labour manifesto pledge to provide up to 30 hours a week of free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds for 48 weeks of the year.

1. It should be extended to cover non-working parents

A matter of “significant scrutiny and discussion” within the Committee was the proposal to restrict the free childcare scheme to working parents only who earn above a certain threshold. The Children’s Commissioner believed this meant the scheme would effectively act as a subsidy for some of Wales’ wealthiest families and would reinforce inequality.

Chwarae Teg supported the Welsh Government’s position, believe that making it a universal free childcare service would “spread support too thinly”. The Welsh Government defended the decision by saying that free childcare is part of a broader set of measures, including Flying Start, many of which are accessible to non-working parents.

The Committee nevertheless recommended that the scheme is expanded to cover non-working parents.

2. Parents should be told if they’re eligible for existing schemes

One of the biggest unintended consequences of the Bill was the creation of a “dual stream” childcare system where some parents are only able to use the existing universal part-time early years childcare service and others are able to access the full-time free service proposed by the government.

HMRC will be responsible for overseeing the application and eligibility process and a number of witnesses believed that any families applying to the scheme should be told about both the new childcare scheme as well as other forms of childcare that the might be eligible for.

3. Lessons should be learned from the pilot scheme

A £10million pilot of the free childcare offer took place during 2017-18 in seven local authorities, but take-up was very low and only £3.4million of the money was spent. The Children & Social Services Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies (Lab, Ogmore) said this was due to it being “demand-led” and there were problems with how the offer was communicated.

The Committee also recommended that any additional costs to local authorities are fully funded, after there were concerns over some of the estimates of how many children would actually be eligible for the scheme (put at 40,000, with no explanation).

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