After declaring that the delayed extension of free childcare will not be completed until August 2021, the Scottish government has been accused of hitting families with a’ hammer blow’.
By August 2020, the extension of early learning and childcare (ELC) to at least 1,140 hours was expected to be introduced, but plans were put on hold so that communities could concentrate on battling the pandemic.
But Children’s Minister Maree Todd has announced that by August 2021, a year later than expected, the policy will be fully enforced.
“She said, “I am very happy that we now have a new date for full implementation of the extended ELC and that more high-quality subsidized child care will help children.
“We made the difficult decision in August to pause the statutory rollout to allow local authorities to focus on responding to the pandemic and providing critical childcare, which was vital to supporting key workers.”
“Ms. Todd added, “The pandemic has an obvious effect on national construction and hiring plans, but local authorities have worked extremely hard and have managed to make strong progress in very challenging conditions, and 1,140 hours are now received by the majority of children receiving supported ELC.
“We have always been clear that the suspension of the statutory requirement for local authorities to provide 1,140 hours was a pause, not a stop. We will continue to work with partners in the coming months to implement this transformative policy that will benefit families across the country.”
But the delays were attacked by Scottish Tories, accusing ministers of turning policies into a “zip code lottery.”
Alison Harris, Conservative spokesperson on children and young people, said, “The SNP has made disastrous progress in providing 1,140 hours of funded childcare despite their claims. They have turned what was supposed to be a positive flagship policy into a zip code lottery.”
“The SNP was months – if not years – behind in delivering the necessary infrastructure before the pandemic hit.”
She added: “They are turning away many hard-working parents from childcare.” The private child care industry is economically at the bottom of the rock and has been neglected for some time.
“This appalling delay is a hammer blow to many families who desperately want to return to work but now can’t. The SNP has let down a generation of school-age children and is now in danger of doing the same to nursery-age families.”
In consultation with council leaders via Cosla, the umbrella association for Scottish local authorities, the August 2021 date was set.
Stephen McCabe, spokesperson for Cosla’s children and young people, said, “The local government remains committed to increasing the number of funded early learning and childcare hours to recognize the transformative impact on the families of Scotland, ensure that children have access to the highest quality provision of learning and childcare, and deliver significant savings for parents and caregivers.”
“Despite the massive challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic, particularly on infrastructure projects and our recruitment programs, all councils are providing more than the current 600 hours entitlement for some or all families.”
He added, ‘We are pleased to have reached a joint agreement for the reinstatement of the 1,140-hour legislative obligation on a new date of August 2021. “We look forward to working with all our partners, including the Scottish Government, to ensure Scotland’s children and families can benefit from the near doubling of funded ELC hours and to support recovery from the impact of coronavirus on our communities.”