Ministers urged to ‘poverty proof’ childcare by expanding free places

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says the First Minister should follow through on his commitment in the SNP leadership contest.

A charity is calling on the Scottish Government to “poverty proof” the future of early years childcare by expanding funded places to children under three.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says the First Minister should follow through on his commitment in the SNP leadership contest.

A report from the charity models the impact of an offer of 25 hours per week for all one and two-year-olds and 35 hours for all three and four-year-olds.

The report says this could reduce poverty by up to 2.9 percentage points by 2030.

Fully funding these places would cost more than £2bn a year so the JRF has recommended low-income families should be prioritised first.

A survey of more than 500 parents, carried out in October, shows they highly value early years childcare but 82% said the high costs are a downside of the current offer.

Some 65% said they would work more if there was more free childcare provision.

Jack Evans, JRF senior policy adviser, said: “The wait-and-see approach to childcare in Scotland risks leaving thousands of families behind.

“A lack of affordable options is a significant barrier to low-income parents escaping poverty.

“The cost of childcare must not lock people in financial insecurity, closing the door to the labour market.

“By reducing early years childcare costs, we can dramatically increase household disposable income, with the biggest impact seen for low-income families.

“So an expanded offer should be designed and targeted at low-income families and while the impact on the child poverty targets would be modest against the cost, the improvement in quality of life of families, particularly for those currently struggling to get by, is potentially great.

“We can be under no illusions about the scale of reform needed. Holding the cost of the childcare that parents want alongside the state of public finance is daunting.

“Yet Scottish Government and politicians of all parties must meet the challenge head on, otherwise families on low incomes will be left behind.

“If the cost of universal expansion is a barrier then we need a debate about how we knock it down.”

In 2023, Humza Yousaf pledged to expand free childcare available for one and two-year-olds.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Tackling child poverty is a priority for this government and the Scottish Budget 2024-25 directs our resources to those in greatest need, including a record £6.3 billion in social security.

“It is estimated that Scottish Government policies will keep 100,000 children out of relative poverty this year. This includes our game-changing Scottish Child Payment, which increased to £26.70 per eligible child from April.

“Scotland is the only part of the UK to offer 1,140 hours a year of funded early learning and childcare to all 3 and 4-year-olds and eligible 2-year-olds regardless of their parents’ working status – putting children first. This offer has been in place since 2021 and, if families paid for this themselves, it would cost them more than £5,500 per eligible child per year.

“We recognise that supporting families through high quality, affordable and accessible childcare is critical to tackling child poverty.  And putting extra income into the pockets of families who need it is also good for the economy by boosting spending power.

 We will continue our work to develop an expanded national offer for more families with two-year olds, and progress work with early adopter communities in six local authorities to develop local systems of funded childcare for families who need it most.”

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