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On 12 June 2014, the House of Lords Affordable Childcare Committee was appointed to consider issues relating to affordable childcare, and to make recommendations. The Committee looked in depth at a range of issues, including government funding for childcare. At the time of the Committee’s report, the Coalition Government was investing £5.2 billion annually in early education and childcare. That figure was set to rise to £6.4 billion in the 2015–20 Parliament and, to date, the current Conservative Government has maintained this commitment. The stated aims of this investment in childcare were, and broadly remain: to promote child development for all children; to narrow the gap in attainment between the most disadvantaged children and their “better off” peers; and to enable parents to work.The Committee’s report investigated whether value for money was being delivered by childcare policy when assessed against these aims and focused on 0 to five year-olds. It also considered the impact of childcare costs on parental employment rates and work choices.

The Committee published its report on 24 February 2015, prior to the 2015 general election. In a summary of its findings, the Committee urged “three main actions the new Government must take in order to get the best value for its investment”. These were to:

  • Reprioritise spending in early education and childcare to focus on disadvantaged children—better value for money will be achieved by targeting those most likely to benefit;
  • Ensure that disadvantaged two year-olds access their free early education in settings rated good or outstanding by Ofsted no later than 2020; and
  • Address the under-funding of free early education places in the Public, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) sector.

Childcare policy is a devolved matter in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the report findings therefore concerned England only. Due to the breadth and complexity of childcare issues touched upon in the Committee report, this Lords Library briefing addresses only a selection of them. It looks in particular at: the Government’s childcare policy strands; the early years pupil premium (implemented in April 2015 for disadvantaged three and four years-olds); the free early education entitlement (for all three and four year-olds and for some disadvantaged two years-olds) and the additional 15 hour free entitlement of childcare, announced in 2016. The briefing focuses mainly on issues raised surrounding the funding and quality of provision. It does not provide detailed information on the provisions of Universal Credit (which the childcare element of working tax credits is transitioning to), or on the new tax free childcare scheme to be rolled-out in 2017, or on provisions specifically targeted towards those with disabilities.

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