UK Policy Briefings
Spring Budget 2023: Gender and Early Education and Childcare
Date Posted: Thursday 2nd March 2023
The early education and childcare system in England is not working for children, parents, workers or the wider economy . The absence of flexible, affordable and quality early education and childcare is a huge barrier to positive child outcomes, tackling inequality and increasing women’s employment.
The Spending Review in Autumn 2021, while emphasising the importance of the first 1,001 days of a child’s life, did not provide the level of investment required to meet the needs of children and their parents and this new investment is being outstripped by higher-than-expected cost rises which mean that real terms funding is expected to decline by 8% over the next two years.
‘The UK spends less than 0.1% of GDP on early education and childcare, the second lowest investment in the OECD’
Lack of access to high quality early education can leave disadvantaged children behind before they have even started school and require expensive interventions in the future. Around two-fifths of the total attainment gap between sixteen-year-olds from the most deprived fifth of families and the least deprived fifth of families is already present at age five.
The cost and unavailability of childcare is putting household budgets under strain and for many women ‘it doesn’t pay to work’: an estimated 1.7 million women are prevented from taking on more hours of paid work due to childcare issues, resulting in up to £28.2bn economic output lost every year.
The Women’s Budget Group is urgently calling for: Funding for the ‘free hours’ hourly rate to reflect the true cost of care provision, which WBG estimates is an additional £1.82bn. The childcare element in Universal Credit should be paid upfront and uprated in line with current childcare costs. The government must establish an independent review into the early education and childcare system, including how it is funded and a workforce strategy.
In the medium term we must move to a supply-side funding model, a better rewarded workforce and increased targeted support for the most disadvantaged children, who benefit the most from high-quality early education and childcare.
In the longer-term the Government must invest in a universal and free system, delivered as a public infrastructure service on equal footing with school education. Investment in such a system will largely pay for itself due to the big returns on maternal employment.