Yet again, the Government is putting a positive spin on the 30 hours 'free' childcare scheme.
The Department for Education (DfE) has released an independent evaluation of the first year of the national rollout of the flagship policy, introduced in September 2017.
Evidence was primarily collected from 12 local authorities as well as a bespoke survey of 1,717 providers and 3,004 parents registered for the 30 hours funded childcare.
The Government is making a big show about the fact the survey reveals 69% of parents using the 30 hours offer have seen their weekly childcare bills fall, 84% say it is making a difference to their family finances and it gives 42% more flexibility over their working hours and improved access to childcare.
However, I don't hear much shouting about the impact on Early Years settings and childminders.
The fact is that the research found 39% of providers reported a reduction in their profit or surplus due to the 30 hours scheme while 25% said they had moved from making a profit to breaking even or from breaking even to making a loss.
I could wax lyrical, but leading childcare organisations have responded and they say it best.
Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of Pre-School Learning Alliance, commented: “The Government’s unwavering insistence that all is fine with the 30-hour offer in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary might be funny if it wasn’t so damaging.
“Every week we are hearing about more and more nurseries, pre-schools and childminders being forced to shut their doors because they cannot make this policy work.
“Our recent survey revealed that four in 10 aren’t sure they’ll survive the next 12 months. Now its [the Government's] own commissioned research is highlighting the challenges that this underfunded scheme is creating. How can the DfE describe this as a successful policy?
"With so many parents having struggled with the cost of childcare over recent years, it's no surprise that so many have welcomed this scheme - but let's not forget that they too are starting to feel the effects of the Government's lack of adequate funding, with nearly half having already seen fees and charges rise as struggling providers try to bridge the funding gap.
"For the Government to continue to insist that all is fine when study after study and survey after survey say otherwise is irresponsible to the extreme. It's time for ministers to face facts and start working with the sector to try and salvage this policy and ensure that it is, in fact, viable in the long term."
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said: “Nurseries will be really worried that a comprehensive evaluation of the policy fails to mention the negative impact that rising delivery costs coupled with stagnating funding rates. If the funding is unsustainable then providers won’t be able to offer the places that the policy needs, putting the whole project at risk.
“Although it was drawn from a relatively small sample, some of the provider statistics echo NDNA’s own research. We know that the average nursery in England makes a £1.90 loss on funded places. As 80% of places are delivered by private, voluntary and independent providers, it’s crucial that the Government listens to our concerns and those of the people we represent or risk the policy failing completely.”
PACEY Chief Executive Liz Bayram said: “This early evaluation reinforces the challenges the 30 hours policy is presenting those childminders, nurseries and pre-schools working in local authorities that continue to offer low funding rates, challenges PACEY has spent months highlighting to Government.
"It shows around 40% of providers are losing money because of the new policy and some are offering 30 hours at a loss for fear of parents leaving their setting if they do not.
"Whilst parents are finding it easy to access a 30 hours place now, that is unlikely to remain the case in the future unless funding levels increase."