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Low pay blamed as report finds nearly half of under-5s now live in ‘childcare deserts’

TEACHING unions blamed low nursery pay after a report said today that nearly half of under-fives in England live in “childcare deserts” that could blight the youngsters’ lives for years to come.

The research warned that more than 1.5 million little ones live in areas where there are at least three times as many kids as there are early years places.

The New Economics Foundation and the Social Guarantee’s Fair Start for All report found these were more likely to be found in the most deprived local authorities.

Report author Tom Pollard said: “It is no coincidence that childcare deserts show up in the poorest areas of England, when access to our early years education system is based on parents’ working status rather than children’s need.

“By keeping the poorest parents locked out from the full benefits of early years education, the government risks locking their children into a lifetime of poverty.”

It comes just months before the government’s expansion of free hours kicks in, adding to growing concerns that the sector won’t be able to keep pace with demand — and that it will continue to be the poorest kids that lose out.

“The government’s plan to expand its childcare offer means that by the end of next year the state will be funding 80 per cent of provision in England, making it a de facto public service,” Mr Pollard said.

“It would be inconceivable not to use that opportunity to deliver for the children who stand to benefit the most and to help level up across our country.”

National Education Union general secretary Daniel Kebede said: “The survival of early years settings is dependent on staffing and funding. Many settings cannot afford to recruit, and when they can, no-one applies.

“Pay is poor and does not reflect the importance of early years professionals’ work.”

NASUWT national official for education Darren Northcott said:  “At the heart of these problems lies the failure of government to come up with a meaningful strategy to address the availability of trained early years workers.

“Its poorly thought-out unpiloted and underfunded wraparound care plan falls well short of what is required to address these issues.

“Without a strategy to improve pay and conditions and increase access to training and progression opportunities, availability of pre- and post-school childcare will continue to be outstripped by demand.”

The Department for Education said: “This government is rolling out the single biggest investment in childcare in England’s history, including both 30 free hours of childcare for working parents from nine months old up to when they start school, and around a 50 per cent increase in the childcare costs that parents on universal credit can claim, up to £950 per month for a single child and £1,629 for two children.

“Working parents on universal credit are eligible for support with childcare costs no matter how many hours they work. To make sure there are enough places across the country for everyone that needs them, we have already begun investing hundreds of millions of pounds to increase hourly funding rates, and will shortly be allocating £100m in capital funding for more early years and wrapround places and spaces.”

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