Call for sustained uplift in early years amid warning only 1,000 childminders left in England by 2035

There will only be 1,000 childminders left in England by 2035, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee has said.

Robin Walker sounded the warning as the Commons debated the estimates of public spending by the Department for Education on childcare and early years.

The former education minister was joined by several other MPs in calling for a sustained uplift in the investment for early years.

Mr Walker said he was “proud” of the Government’s record to deliver the targeted two-year-old offer for disadvantaged children and the 30 hours for some working parents.

However, he added: “It is all too clear from the evidence our committee has heard that those welcomed steps are coming under real pressure from rising costs.

“Helen Donohoe of Pacey (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) told our committee the number of childminders has halved in 20 years.

“We project that by 2035 we will only have about 1,000 childminders left in this country and that is from about 60,000 20 years ago.”

Among some of the measures the Treasury could implement to help the sector, Mr Walker pointed to “removing business rates from the PVI sector, which provides around 80% of childcare in this country, and removing the unfair burden of VAT which holds back investment”.

He also said it would be worth exploring the “true potential of actual tax-free childcare”, making it much more attractive for parents by “allowing childcare costs to be claimed against taxation for the household, as many European countries do, rather than offering a 20% subsidy on cash placed in an account from post-tax income”.

The Worcester MP said “investment in the early years should be a win-win”, as it would be “good for the children, who are better stimulated, supported and prepared for education, and better for parents who know that they can engage in work with confidence, knowing that their children are getting that stimulation in a safe setting that meets their needs”.

Intervening, Tory former education secretary Kit Malthouse said he had been “fascinated for many years” by a project in the US where a philanthropist cut the crime rate of a neighbourhood in half and increased the high school graduation rate by giving everyone free day care and all high school graduates scholarships.

He added: “If we are interested in regeneration and levelling up across everything we do, this investment is not just about the individual child and family, but also about the area in which they live and the sense of aspiration and purpose of the community.”

Also taking part in the debate, Conservative former cabinet minister Dame Andrea Leadsom called on ministers to consider a carers’ allowance for people undertaking family childcare.

She said: “There should be some sort of carers’ allowance, attendance allowance, for grandparents who are actually going part-time so that they can care for their own relatives.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson accused the Government of “not spending enough on childcare and early years, plain and simple”, and Conservative former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said the cost of childcare was contributing to skills shortages in the NHS.

Ms Villiers told MPs: “There is no doubt that the cost of childcare is high in this country compared to many other places. It must be keeping women out of the workplace. It’s certainly shortening the hours they feel willing to do.

“I think for that reason it’s almost undoubtedly contributing to skills shortages in the National Health Service.”

Education minister Claire Coutinho said: “This Government has invested heavily in the early years, giving our children the best start in life. £3.5 billion has been spent in each of the past three years on our early educational entitlements alone for two to four-year-old children.

“I know the sector is facing economic challenges similar to those being faced across the country. We have already announced additional funding. This will help to support early years providers, and in addition to this we have been supporting them on energy bills.”

She outlined early education entitlement schemes and investment in youth services, and said the Government has been rolling out family hubs.

She told MPs: “Improving the cost, choice and availability of childcare for working parents, making sure the providers are well supported, is enormously important to me. And we’ll not ignore the cost pressures faced by the sector in the cost-of-living crisis and we will continue to explore options.”

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