Government warned over ‘genuine childcare crisis’ as hundreds of providers close

Politicians have been urged to invest more money in childcare as figures indicate hundreds of nurseries and childminders are closing.

Early years leaders said there will be a “genuine childcare crisis” if the sector is not properly funded as a matter of priority.

Ofsted figures show that on average, 179 nurseries and pre-schools a month closed between January and March this year, along with 401 childminders a month.

Between September and December last year, an average of 164 nurseries and pre-schools and 390 childminders a month closed.

The Department for Education said the figures do not take into account providers joining the early years register.

Neil Leitch (pictured), chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “We have long warned that without adequate funding, many early years providers would be forced to close their doors and these figures sadly confirm that this is exactly what has been happening.

“To lose well over 500 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders every month is simply not sustainable. If more isn’t done to ensure that the sector is adequately funded as a matter of priority, we are going to have a genuine childcare crisis on our hands in this country before too long.”

Under the current system, three and four-year-olds in England, along with disadvantaged two-year-olds, are eligible for up to 30 hours a week of free childcare.

But early years leaders have warned that public funding to cover these “free” hours is not enough.

Ofsted’s figures, released by the inspectorate in response to a parliamentary question, use information on nurseries and childminders leaving the early years register as a proxy for closing down.

The regulator said most of those leaving the register have resigned, but some have had their registration cancelled, or changed provider type or register.

It adds that for those that have had their registration cancelled, this is mostly due to non-payment of fees, and once these are paid, the provider will be reinstated.

The data does not take into account childminders who de-register and then sign up with a childminding agency, and nurseries and childminders who have left the sector due to closure may still re-register under new ownership.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “These figures only provide a partial picture and don’t take into account new providers joining the early years register.

“We also know that the number of childcare places available has remained broadly stable.

“We are increasing our hourly funding rates for councils so that they can continue to deliver free childcare places and over one million children every year are now benefiting from the Government’s record investment in childcare and early years education.”

The DfE has confirmed that hourly funding rates for the “free” childcare hours will increase this year by 8p to £4.38 in 2020/21.

All local authorities will get the increase to cover eligible disadvantaged two-year-olds, and 136 councils will get an 8p increase for three and four-year-olds.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Lauren Hurley / PA Wire.

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