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Family and Childcare Trust and Children in Scotland: The 2013 Scottish Childcare Report

Access to high quality, affordable childcare is essential for parents, enabling them to return to or remain in work or to undergo training or education. Universally available, high quality childcare is also an investment in children’s future as it supports educational achievement and helps narrow the gap between the most disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.1 Over the last 15 years, much progress has been made to increase the availability and affordability of childcare in Scotland. The number of childcare places in nurseries and out-of-school clubs expanded after 1998 and parents on lower incomes have been given help with childcare costs through the childcare element of Working Tax Credit. Moreover, three and four year-olds are now entitled to some free early education in Scotland.

But despite these advances childcare costs still fall on families and for many parents this presents a barrier preventing them returning to work or training. Some parents still struggle to find childcare and in Scotland local authorities have no statutory duty to assess whether there is sufficient provision for families. Aware of these concerns, in early 2012 Children in Scotland partnered with the Family and Childcare Trust2 to publish a report that reviewed the state of childcare provision in Scotland. This survey showed that parents in Scotland were paying more for childcare than their counterparts in northern England. It also highlighted significant gaps in provision in Scotland, with just a fifth (21 per cent) of local authorities reporting that they had enough childcare for working parents and only a quarter (25 per cent) had enough childcare for 5-11 year olds.

A significant development earlier this year was the First Minister, Alex Salmond’s commitment to making childcare in Scotland the best in the world . Legislation has already been presented to the Scottish Parliament in 2013 and this includes a legal guarantee of 600 hours of free nursery education per year for every aged child aged three and four from 2014 and similar provision for vulnerable two year old children who are looked after by local authorities under the provisions of child welfare legislation. While these proposals are welcome, both parents and civil society organisations are concerned that a commitment to childcare cannot be confined to
the early years. The importance of out-of-school care cannot be underplayed. It helps create a stronger economy by increasing employment, particularly among women. Out-of-school care also provides high quality learning and development opportunities for school-age children, something of particular significant for those from the most deprived families. Given major gaps in educational attainment in Scotland, the role of out-of-school activities in addressing inequalities must not be overlooked.

Children in Scotland and the Family and Childcare Trust have now undertaken a second survey in order to understand changes since 2012 and to monitor progress towards better childcare provision in Scotland, particularly for the over fives.