THOUSANDS of Scottish children are missing out on their free childcare entitlement because there are not enough nurseries to meet working parents’ needs, a major report has warned.
Opposition politicians hit out after findings contained in the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual survey found that fewer than one in six councils in Scotland have enough childcare capacity, down on the 2013 figure of one in four.
The situation is worse than south of the Border, where 43 per cent of authorities have adequate provision, according to the trust’s report.
The SNP has pledged to introduce full-time childcare in Scotland, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was attacked on the government’s record at Holyrood yesterday. At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale said: “For so many working families childcare is essential. But it cannot be prescriptive. Some families need support first thing in the morning, others at the end of the school day.”
She said the situation is getting worse for families trying to juggle childcare, despite legislation that entitles them to 600 hours a year. She added: “Parents across Scotland are unable to access that right we gave them.”
Ms Sturgeon recently held a meeting with the Fair Funding for our Kids campaign group. Ms Dugdale said the group later told her ministers offered “supportive words, but precious little action”.
She added: “They told her [Ms Sturgeon] that thousands of kids are missing out on childcare and that parents are having to give up their jobs as a result. On the SNP’s watch, things are getting worse for families trying to juggle family life.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “We don’t yet have sufficient provision of funded childcare to meet the needs of all full-time working parents.”
Labour is now calling on the government to carry out an audit of the delivery of childcare provision across Scotland.
The First Minister said her meeting with Fair Funding for our Kids last month was to discuss the problem.
She added: “There are some parents – and I stress some parents – who are having difficulty accessing their childcare in a way that suits their working patterns.”
The amount of free childcare to which parents are entitled has increased to 600 hours under the SNP – a 45 per cent increase for three- and four-year-olds since 2007 when the figure was 412 hours.
Ms Sturgeon said this saves families an average of £700 per child annually and that 98.5 per cent of three- and four-year-olds had registered for free nursery care under the scheme.
She added: “This is a success story, but we still have work to do.”
Parents who are having problems accessing free childcare are now the focus of government work to improve the situation, the First Minister told MSPs.
She said. “This government is committed to a further substantial extension of the provision of childcare.
“We have said if we are elected, over the next parliament we will increase provision to 30 hours a week for all three- and four-year-olds and all eligible two-year-olds.”
The measure would see children receive 1,149 hours of free care over the course of a year, Ms Sturgeon said, challenging Labour to back the move. She added: “This government has delivered on childcare and we will continue to do so.”
The Family and Childcare Trust report shows that, across Britain, part-time nursery prices for a child aged two and over have risen by 4.1 per cent to £109.83 a week on average, while a childminder for this age group is up 2.5 per cent to £103.04.
In Scotland, the number of councils reporting sufficient childcare provision has dropped in the past year from 23 per cent in 2013 to 15 per cent.
In England, nursery costs for under-twos have risen by 5.7 per cent to £117.30 – more than in Scotland or Wales.
Nursery care for a child aged two and over in England has increased by 5.2 per cent in a year to £111.64, again more than in Scotland or Wales.
Liberal Democrats have called on the Scottish Government to match the UK government’s commitment in full for the provision of free childcare for 40 per cent of two-year-olds.
The party’s children’s spokesman added: “SNP ministers must work with councils and providers to find innovative ways to ensure flexibility in the system.
“Too often parents are caught between a rock and a hard place, where they either have to transport their child from one nursery provider to another in order to take up the free provision, or face having to personally pay for all of the provision.
“The reality is that poorer families may have to lean more on their own family. In the worst cases, many will face tough decisions about the practicably of returning to work.
“If we are to go further in our childcare ambitions we must have the right foundations.”
The survey found that, across Britain, it now costs around £115.45 on average to send a child aged under two to nursery for 25 hours a week – a total of £6,003 a year.
It said: “Over the last five years, while there have been deep cuts to other public services, the coalition government has increased spending on childcare.
“But despite this welcome investment, this year’s survey finds childcare prices have continued to increase and the gaps in provision remain unfilled.”
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