Subsidised Scots childcare could rise to 50 hours

Acting Children's Minister Fiona McLeod. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Acting Children's Minister Fiona McLeod. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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AN average 50 hours of free or subsidised childcare per week should be made available to parents to allow them to work or study, a independent think tank has stated.

The Commission for Childcare Reform was set up last year to plan for the future of childcare in Scotland.

It has now published its draft recommendations for how it feels provision could be better organised, delivered and paid for with its key recommendation being up to 50 hours per week of free or subsidised childcare made available throughout the year.

At present parents benefit from free early learning and childcare provision of an average of 15 free hours - the SNP have pledged to increase this to 30 hours if re-elected in the next parliament as Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to get a generation of women back into work.

The report states: “We believe that an average of 50 hours per week is a reasonable upper limit for state support. To note that by ‘support’ we mean that the state takes steps to ensure both the availability and the affordability of that 50 hours of provision.”

Commission chair Colin MacLean, former director of financial strategy at the Scottish Government, feels that while the current 15 hours meets children’s development needs, it does not address the needs of parents for childcare to enable them to work or study throughout the year.

He said: “We believe our draft recommendations set out constructive proposals for change, and we are looking forward to testing these ideas over the next period of wide engagement and consultation to establish where consensus and agreement lies across civic society on the changes required.

“This interim report is intentionally provisional. We are grateful to everyone we have engaged with over the past year whose contributions have helped us develop our proposals.”

It is suggested that parents would pay for up to 40 per cent of the cost of their childcare with the state subsidising the remainder - a level could also be set at 10 per cent of household income.

In total, the commission’s interim report contains 18 draft recommendations drawn from extensive consultation with parents, providers and employers.

One of the report’s key messages is that of collaboration between the UK and Scottish Governments on childcare policy – a partnership “of vital importance”, said Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock.

“The UK and Scottish Governments simply must get on with working closely with each other to develop solutions based around the total funding relevant to childcare,” she said. “The Smith Commission represented a chance to settle this and agree a more coherent system – but was ultimately a missed opportunity.

She added: “There is overwhelming evidence of the penalizing impact the current system of childcare has on families in Scotland and the UK. The Commission has presented practical and innovative recommendations for change, but it now depends on politicians in Westminster and Holyrood recognising the urgency of this issue and taking action. This is what families in Scotland deserve and will keep demanding of our politicians.”

The Alliance established the Commission in April 2014 with a brief to engage with Scottish civic society and business.

Acting Children’s Minister Fiona McLeod said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring all children, parents and families have access to high quality, flexible, accessible and affordable early learning and childcare. That is why this Government has increased funded early learning and childcare provision by almost half to 600 hours a year since 2007, and why we have committed to go even further and increase the level from 16 hours to 30 hours per week by the end of the next parliament. This takes the number of hours up to the same as children spend in primary school each week. “We have also legislated to make early learning and childcare more flexible, to better meet the needs of children, parents and families.”

The Commission’s final report will be published this summer.

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