The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said, in a briefing published on Sunday (4 October 2015), that it is concerned the Government will significantly underfund the planned free entitlement extension - causing ' negative outcomes for families and for the sustainability of the sector.'
The briefing raises two key issues:
The Institute has put the cost of extending the free entitlement at £1.6 billion annually, and yet the Government has costed the policy at £365 million in its first year. The IPPR says that 'if the rates the government pays to providers to deliver care are consequently set too low, it will result in falling quality, poorer outcomes for children, and less choice for parents as the market shrinks'.
2. Loosening regulations
The IPPR said: "We are concerned that the low costing for this policy will lead the government to change the nature of provision to fit the price tag, including by loosening child-to-adult ratios in care settings."
The briefing goes on to suggest two alternative proposals: making the current targeted free hours for 2-year-olds, universal for all 2-year-olds, and extending the free offer from 38 weeks to 48 weeks in order to provide holiday cover.
Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said:
“The concerns raised in the IPPR's briefing mirror those expressed by PACEY in our Building Blocks report published earlier this year.
"We agree with the IPPR that the successful delivery of the Government’s ambitious plan to expand free childcare depends on ensuring it is adequately funded. We also believe that the government should commit to a regular and ongoing review of the true costs of providing childcare.
"Our members tell us that flexibility is so important for the families they work with, so we welcome the IPPR’s call for extending the free offer to cover holidays. Many of our members offer care flexibly throughout the week, and across the whole year, and this reflects the realities of what it means to be a working parent.
"We share the IPPR’s focus on the quality of the care – this makes a real difference for children, especially in helping close the gap for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. High adult:child ratios and a qualified workforce, supported to grow their professional skills, are absolutely central to ensuring that the sector is encouraged to provide the high quality care that children deserve.
"The government will recall just how passionately both providers and parents feel about ratios. We echo calls from peers during the House of Lords debates on the Childcare Bill to ensure that current ratios are protected.”