New figures show that the number of parents that are using the Welsh Government's free childcare service has been a lot lower than expected, with only £3.4m of the allocated £10m being used by local councils in Wales.
This childcare offer is open to working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds who are eligible for up to 30 hours a week free childcare, under the Welsh Government's flagship policy. Although the figures in from 2017 -2018 show usage levels of local councils only spending £3.4m of the allocated £10m, which when broken down further details that only £2.8m of that was spent on childcare and £550,000 on administration.
Where in Wales has Access to This 30hr Free Childcare
Since September 2017, this 30 hour a week free childcare offer has been piloted in seven areas of Wales - Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey and every time a child uses the scheme a payment of £4.50 per hour is triggered. The plan was to eventually have this scheme rolled out across all of Wales by 2020, although some are now questioning if this will actually happen.
Last year the Welsh Government-commissioned a report which raised concerns that a lack of nursery places meant some parents would not be able to take up the full 30-hour offer.
Reaction to Low Uptake
The Welsh Government says take-up "is continuing to grow." The policy, which was one of Labour's flagship manifesto commitments at the 2016 assembly elections, covers 48 weeks of the year and aims to remove "one of the main barriers to employment".
The Welsh Conservatives have labelled the childcare system, which was brought in as a pilot, as 'inflexible, insufficiently promoted and beset by shortages’.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Education and Children, Darren Millar AM said, “The Welsh Labour Government’s pilot of its childcare offer is inflexible, insufficiently promoted and beset by shortages in convenient childcare places. Action must be taken to ensure that parents are aware of the scheme and to acknowledge the huge part player by grandparents and other family members in helping take care of children.”
“Unless these issues are addressed there would seem to be little prospect of the scheme being fully delivered by 2020.”
Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh minister responsible for children said "Just like other demand-led programmes we've had previously, the uptake is slow at the very beginning - we're only seven months into it. We're only in seven local authority areas... and we're not even across most of the whole of those local authorities."
A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Take-up in the scheme is continuing to grow, and more new areas will be included in the pilot in the coming months. Our aim is to roll-out the offer across Wales by 2020."
How Do you Apply for Free Child Care
In West Wales, we only have one council that is operating the pilot which is Swansea, although it’s worth noting that this childcare offer is currently only available within selected areas of Swansea Council as follows: Available in the wards of - Cockett; Dunvant; Gorseinon Gowerton; Kingsbridge; Upper Lougher; Lower Loughor; Morriston; Penclawdd; Penderry; Penyrheol; Llangyfelach; Llansamlet; Penllegaer; Pontarddulais; and West Cross.
To apply for the 30 hours of free childcare a week you need to contact Swansea Family Information Service, Click Here to find their contact information.
Once this offer does roll out in our other council areas, then anyone looking to take up this offer will need to contact their Family Information Service of their own local council, who will be able to help them.