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New data shows ministers knew early years was underfunded

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

MINISTERS have “shamelessly, knowingly” underfunded the early years sector for a decade, driving childcare costs up and quality down, the Early Years Alliance (EYA) has charged.

Government briefing documents uncovered in a two-year investigation by the industry body reveal that the level of funding to support 30 hours of free pre-school childcare a week in England is less than two-thirds what ministers believed was needed. 

They also show the government was aware that insufficient investment would result in higher prices for parents and that nurseries would be forced to lower quality by maximising child-adult ratios just to stay open, the EYA said.

The findings, blasted as “shocking” by Labour, follow a lengthy freedom of information dispute between the government and the EYA and come as a petition calling for an independent review of childcare costs has topped 100,000 signatures.

One government document appears to show that, in 2015, officials estimated that the cost of providing an early-years place would be £7.49 an hour by 2020-21; the average funding rate actually given to local authorities was £4.89, a shortfall of £2,964 a year according to research agency Ceeda. 

Ahead of the EYA’s annual conference today, chief executive Neil Leitch called on ministers to launch a full review of early years policy and make more cash available. 

“Only with fair and adequate funding will we ensure nurseries, pre-schools and childminders can continue delivering the quality, affordable care and education that children and families need,” he said. 

A Department for Education spokesperson claimed the government had made an “unprecedented investment” of £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on free childcare offers. 

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