Free childcare will not solve Tower Hamlets’ early years issues, say activists

Activists and researchers have told ELL that the government’s plans to expand childcare need to be properly funded Pic: Digital Buggu

A local advocacy group for children with special educational needs and disabilities have criticised the Governments plan to expand free childcare for working parents. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in the Budget that working parents of children aged nine months to three years would receive free childcare, amounting to 30 hours a week by 2025.

However, this came with a number of changes to how this childcare would be provided, including relaxing the number of required staff for two-year-olds from four children per staff member to five. 

A spokesperson for childcare activist group SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets said the group were “very concerned” about the Government’s ability to provide safe numbers of staff and properly fund the proposed expansions.

The spokesperson said: “We are very concerned about the rise in minimum staff-to-child ratios for two year olds. This is dangerous and it will make childcare settings far less inclusive”. 

They also said: “Clearly providing more funded hours of nursery only to children of working parents is discriminatory. Especially when you consider that childcare is early years education and care, and how important early years Special Educational Needs support is, it should be universal”.

In January, SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets submitted evidence to the government’s Support for Childcare and the Early Years Inquiry as part of Post Pandemic Childcare Coalition.

The SEND Crisis spokesperson told ELL: “We don’t think we have been listened to at all, but we still hope they might call on us for more evidence”.

According to Women’s Budget Group, an independent organisation, the funding for the childcare proposed is short by over £5bn

Veronica Deutsch, a researcher who previously worked as a nanny for nine years, said: “While on the face of it the news is a bold step towards a more affordable childcare system, I am deeply concerned that the policy proposal puts childcare settings at risk of closure and widens inequality”.

Deutsch, 26, is now working with non-profit organisation On The Record to create “Grow Your Own“, a collection of resources about childcare in East London including a podcast series and play space. The project involves childcare campaigners from Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, and Waltham Forest.

“Grow Your Own” is funded by Trust for London, a charity which campaigns against inequality and poverty.

In Tower Hamlets particularly, Deutsch said the exclusion of non-working parents may widen existing inequalities. “On how Tower Hamlets will be affected – the borough has the highest levels of child poverty in the capital, and the take-up rate for 15 hours provision for two year olds, which is provided to families on low incomes, is less than half”.

She continued: “The rollout of provision to one and two year olds may widen the gap between eligible and ineligible families”.

Deutsch also noted that the free childcare is not available to those with No Recourse to Public Funds, which according to Citizens Advice is a condition attached to those on work, family, and study visas. 

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