In Wales, assembly members are working on a Childcare Bill, the final stages or which were scheduled to be debated on 12th December 2018.
Nevertheless, some assembly members are worried that the current proposals could be discriminating against the poorest children. Sian Gwenllian argued that limiting the free childcare places to children from families where two parents are working will only serve to increase the gap between wealthy and poor children when they get to school.
Unfairly Targeting Struggling Parents
Ms Gwenllian believes that struggling parents are being unfairly targeted by the current proposals. As it stands (at the time of this writing) children of single parents, those who are unemployed, and those looking for work would not get the same early education as the kids of two working parents earning less than £100k per year.
Gwenllian fears that the Bill is risking an increase of inequalities between the children of those in work and those out of work. She feels that, in a nutshell, it would mean that children from poorer households would be behind in terms of educational attainment and school readiness.
There has already been research suggesting that kids from the poorest backgrounds are falling behind those of more well-off families. The research, which was conducted by Save the Children, found that a third of children living in poverty are behind a fifth of children from wealthier families in terms of cognitive ability.
Gwenllian believes that the proposals by the Welsh Government will only increase the gap. There is already a ten-month development gap in children by the time they reach the age of three, with children from the poorest families behind those of wealthier families. There are fears that providing childcare assistance to only those from families with two working parents will increase this gap or cause it to continue throughout a child’s school life and beyond.
Wales’ Children’s Commissioner, Professor Sally Holland, agrees and has said that she believes children from poor families will suffer more if not provided with the same early childcare opportunities.
She went on to express her concern that children whose parents are not employed will fall even further behind their peers if they miss out on this provision. She further called for universal free childcare in Wales. She said that investing in education in the early years will help to save money for the government in the long-term and will ensure that children from the poorest families will get the same life chances.
Not a Fair Offer
In the meantime, Sian Gwenllian is calling for the thirty-hour free childcare offer to be extended to all Welsh children and said that current proposals do not ‘represent a fair offer for all children’. As shadow cabinet secretary for education and the Welsh language, she is also worried that ‘the Childcare Bill does not give real consideration to the Welsh language childcare provision’. She said, “It is of the utmost importance that childcare provision is available in the Welsh language to reach the target of a million Welsh speakers.”
She went on to say that along with her Plaid Cymru colleagues, she would not be supporting current proposals. She stated that her party believes all children aged three and four should be provided with 30 hours of free early education per week as this would provide them with the best start in life. She added that by rolling out free childcare for children aged between one and three, parents would have a chance of getting their families out of poverty by returning to work earlier.