Disadvantaged children risk being worse off under the government’s childcare reforms, two national charities have claimed.
The plans, which were unveiled in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget earlier this year, include a £4.1bn expansion in free childcare to provide 30 hours a week for working parents with children as young as nine months old in England.
It comes on top of current provision for those with three and four-year-olds.
But Coram Family and Childcare (CFC) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said, even with the extra investment, the changes “risk worsening outcomes for disadvantaged children” and were “unfairly targeted towards higher income families”.
In a report on Thursday, the charities said the “complex and opaque” system did little to help lower income parents, who would end up with about £4 take-home pay an hour after additional childcare costs and the Universal Credit taper rate is applied.
The charities said that made it “less likely that work will feel worthwhile and childcare costs will feel affordable”.
A low-earning single parent will also be only £60 per month better off if they increase their working hours from four to five days, the report said.
Abby Jitendra, a policy advisor for the JRF, said: “Families deserve childcare that’s high quality, affordable and easy to access.
“But the childcare system we have now is failing disadvantaged children – parents don’t take up the services they are entitled to because, in doing so, they’d lose out financially. The only option many have is to reduce the hours they work in order to stop being penalised.”
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The report recommended instead the government should offer 15 hours per week universal free childcare for all two-year-olds and 30 hours per week for all three and four-year-olds.
It said: “This would benefit more disadvantaged families, who are less likely to meet the work criteria, rather than working parents of very young children, which the government’s proposals focus on.”
But a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are introducing the largest ever expansion of free childcare in England, worth up to an average of £6,500 per child per year for a working family.
“We recognise the cost pressures that childcare can create for parents, and low-income families already qualify for 15 hours free childcare for two-year-olds, a year before all children become eligible for 15 hours at ages three and four.
“We are also increasing the childcare costs that parents on universal credit can claim back by around 50%, up to £950 a month for a single child and £1,629 for two children.”